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Democrats to Trump: Make good on promise to lower drug costs

A group of 18 Democratic senators, joined by the Senate's two Independent lawmakers, urged President-elect Donald Trump to make good on his campaign promises to take action to lower the rising cost of prescription drugs.

The call from the senators came after a group of House Democrats released a congressionally mandated analysis from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services on spending by federal health programs, which showed the gross costs for the Medicare Part D prescription drug program for seniors and the disabled nearly doubled from $61.9 billion in 2007 to $121 billion in 2014.

"You now have the authority to push for a future that prioritizes patients," the 20 senators said in a Dec. 20 letter to the president-elect. "We are ready to advance measures to achieve this goal and we urge you to partner with Republicans and Democrats alike to take meaningful steps to address the high cost of prescription drugs through bold administrative and legislative actions."

The lawmakers, including Sens. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., and Jeff Merkley, D-Ore. — three of the most vocal on drug costs — laid out a five-point plan for Trump, the first of which was giving the head of HHS the authority to negotiate Medicare Part D drug prices.

Trump should work with Congress to pass a law that would lift the ban on negotiating Part D drug prices, the senators said, reminding the president-elect that he had pledged to "negotiate like crazy" on those costs. Trump's HHS secretary nominee, Rep. Tom Price, R-Ga., however, has been adamantly opposed to such a notion, even voting against legislative measures on the matter.

Negotiating Part D prices not only could produce savings, "but would bring the largest payer in America in line with the activities of the rest of the insurance industry," the senators said.

Part D spending rose 7.7% a year between 2007 and 2012, and accelerated to 16.3% a year between 2012 and 2014, HHS said in its report, which the House Democrats disclosed despite a hold placed on it by Rep. Tom Cole, R-Okla., chairman of the Labor, Health and Human Services, Education and Related Agencies Appropriations Subcommittee.

Prescription drug spending in the U.S. is expected to increase 7.3% a year through 2018, the House Democrats said, citing the report.

Spending on medicines by the Medicare Part B program, which covers drugs for the elderly and disabled dispensed in doctors' offices and outpatient hospital clinics, increased from $10.1 billion in 2006 to $17.2 billion in 2014, HHS reported.

The growth in outlays for Medicaid, which covers the poor, accelerated by 24.3% to $27.3 billion in 2014 due to the expansion of coverage under the program, plus an uptake of new therapies to treat hepatitis C, the analysis showed.

As a candidate, Trump had endorsed price transparency for the entire healthcare system, not just segments of it, the 20 senators wrote in their letter.

Drugmakers should be mandated to publicly disclose costs associated with research and development, materials and manufacturing, along with the federal benefits those companies receive in the form of tax credits, government grants and the federally funded research on which their products are based, the senators told Trump.

"Patients should know drugs' true cost, not just the price that the drug companies and insurance companies choose to charge," they said.

The lawmakers said they also were ready to work with Trump on curbing what they called "abusive pricing practices,'' such as the 5,000% price hike last year by Turing Pharmaceuticals AG of its medicine Daraprim, the only drug approved by the FDA to treat toxoplasmosis, a parasitic infection often seen in HIV-infected patients, pregnant women and children.

The senators also called on Trump to align with Congress on getting common-sense reforms enacted to ensure taxpayer-funded innovation is accessible and affordable to American consumers.

Finally, they want Trump to task the Federal Trade Commission and the U.S. Department of Justice with aggressively enforcing existing laws and push for new provisions from Capitol Hill aimed at stopping brand-name drug manufactures from blocking the entrance of generic competitors into the U.S. marketplace.

"The American public is fed up," the senators said, noting that about 8 in 10 Americans have reported that drug prices are unreasonable.