President Donald Trump on Oct. 16 took aim at the biopharmaceutical industry for its high prices, repeating remarks he made earlier in the year that the companies are "getting away with murder."
"Prescription drug prices are out of control," Trump told his Cabinet members and news reporters. "The drug prices have gone through the roof."
"The same exact drug by the same exact company made in the same exact box and sold someplace else" is "sometimes a fraction of what we pay in this country, meaning, as usual, the world is taking advantage of the United States," he said.
"They're setting prices in other countries and we're not," Trump said. "The drug companies, frankly, are getting away with murder."
He said the U.S. wants to bring its drug prices down to what other countries are paying, "or at least, close and let the other countries pay more."
Foreign nations are "setting such low prices that we're actually subsidizing other countries, and that's just not going to happen anymore," Trump said. "It's been going on for years, where our people are paying so much more for it. And I don't mean they are paying 2% more. I mean they're paying double, triple, quadruple. They're paying so much more that it's very unfair to the United States."
Where is the action?
Trump had vowed throughout his 2016 presidential campaign to lower drug costs once he got into office.
During a Jan. 11 press conference held a few days before he entered the White House, Trump insisted that he would make good on his promises to support efforts to give the Medicare program the authority to negotiate with industry on the prices of medicines — also declaring at that time that drugmakers were "getting away with murder."
But since then, Trump has been more reserved in his remarks about the biopharmaceutical industry — often inviting industry leaders to the White House — although still promising lawmakers that he would take action on costs.
The White House had been working on an executive order, the draft details of which have been leaked from time to time. But Trump has yet to unveil any such order.
For the time being, he appears to have left the matter of lowering drug costs up to his head of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, Scott Gottlieb, who has taken some actions involving generics and lower-cost versions of complex medicines and has vowed to roll out other measures.
Drug prices back in Senate's bull's-eye
Trump's remarks came a day ahead of a Senate hearing to examine drug costs, where representatives from some of the largest lobbying groups affiliated with biopharmaceutical manufacturing, payment, distribution and dispensing will testify.
At the Oct. 17 hearing, the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee will hear from representatives from the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America, the Association for Accessible Medicines, the Healthcare Distribution Alliance, the Pharmaceutical Care Management Association and the American Pharmacists Association.
The panel held an initial hearing in June, but the committee's chairman, Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., sidelined the effort after he said Democrats were too focused at that time on trying to upend the Republicans' attempts to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act — a law the party has so far failed to dismantle.
Trump expects short-term ACA fixes soon
Trump also said he anticipates that Congress will soon put some short-term ACA fixes in place, "maybe with some Democrats."
He said that because he "cut off the gravy train" by halting the cost-sharing reduction payments, which help low- and moderate-income Americans cover out-of-pocket costs for prescription drugs and doctor visits, Democrats and Republicans were more willing to work together.
Trump is facing at least one multiparty lawsuit challenging his move to cut off the ACA payments and several doctor, hospital and insurance groups have weighed in against his decision.
Trump again insisted Republicans that "have the votes right now" to pass a repeal bill, even though none of the three members of his party in the Senate who objected to the latest legislation — Sens. Rand Paul of Kentucky, Susan Collins of Maine and John McCain of Arizona — have indicated that they have changed their minds.
Trump said he expected a new ACA repeal vote to take place in the Senate in March or April 2018.