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Trump says to expect 'beautiful' plan targeting high drug prices next month

President Donald Trump said he plans to roll out a detailed plan next month to lower U.S. drug prices.

"You'll be seeing drug prices falling very substantially in the not-so-distant future, and it's going to be beautiful," Trump said during a March 19 speech in New Hampshire, where he was visiting to unveil his strategic plan to tackle the U.S. opioid crisis.

He said part of the administration's effort to reduce drug costs included making medication-assisted treatments for opioid addiction more affordable by taking steps to increase competition.

Trump said he planned to hold a "major news conference" on his drug pricing proposals possibly at the White House next month.

He noted that as a nation, the U.S. pays "so much more for drugs," and blamed the biopharmaceutical lobbying groups and "the complexity of distribution," which was "basically another term for saying 'How do we get more money?'"

"If you compare our drug prices to other countries in the world, in some cases it's many times higher for the exact same pill … in the exact same package made in the exact same plant. And we are going to change that," Trump said.

He said his administration had already saved "billions of dollars" for U.S. patients, but did not provide details.

Azar gives Trump credit

Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar credited Trump for the highest ever generic drug approvals achieved by the Food and Drug Administration in 2017. Many of those applications, however, had been submitted before the current administration took control of the agency.

Those approvals "bring prices down for patients, for the system, for everybody," Azar said.

The health chief also gave Trump credit for a deal Congress reached in February that requires manufacturers of brand-name medicines starting in 2019 to provide a 70% discount during Medicare Part D beneficiaries' coverage gap — the so-called doughnut hole — which means those patients will be paying significantly lower out-of-pocket costs.

Trump signed that legislation, but some lawmakers currently are seeking to reverse it.

Azar said the "slate" of proposals the administration plans to roll out next month would include an effort to ensure that seniors share in the discounts that pharmacy benefit managers — often called middlemen — receive from biopharmaceutical companies.

Trump already had proposed in his fiscal 2019 budget request to require Medicare Part D drug plan sponsors to apply at least one-third of the discounts and rebates they receive from biopharmaceutical companies to the beneficiaries' out-of-pocket spending on their medicines at the pharmacy counter — a proposal that was met with reluctance from insurers.

Azar recently praised UnitedHealth Group Inc. for its decision to pass along rebates directly to consumers when they pick up their medicines at the pharmacy counter.

During a March 5 speech in Washington before the Federation of American Hospitals, Azar warned that if insurers, healthcare providers, pharmacies and drugmakers failed to provide more price transparency, the government would use its "levers" to force the change.

In New Hampshire, Azar said the administration was "attacking" the drug pricing issue at the "same level of action, determination and resolve" as it was the opioid epidemic.

Trump noted that Azar had previously served as president of Eli Lilly and Co.'s U.S. division before leaving the drug company in early 2017 and joining the administration in January.

"Who knows better than the guy running the drug company" about prices, the president said.