Staffers at the Department of Health and Human Services have gotten used to a pattern: President Donald Trump sees a news report on spikes in prescription-drug list prices, Secretary Alex Azar is called to a meeting in the Oval Office, and a policy in the discussion stage gets accelerated and pushed out the door.
It’s happened at least three times, each within a week after Trump heard a news report about drug prices. Each meeting led to the public release of a proposal shortly afterward. In one instance, Trump took the highly unusual step of attending the announcement of a proposed rule.
While it’s no secret Trump has been focused on lowering drug prices, the level of his hands-on involvement—described by two former administration officials familiar with the pattern—demonstrates his fixation on the issue even as he constantly changes positions and priorities on other issues. This means that drug companies may need to be conscious that they can’t sneak in price increases because they’re likely to lead to more regulations for their industry.
Trump “thinks about governing the way he thought about running his company,” Christopher Holt, director of health-care policy at the center-right think tank American Action Forum, said. The president thinks the U.S. should be able to leverage its market power of Medicare beneficiaries to get good prices, but he sees other countries getting better deals and “equates that to losing,” Holt said. “Anytime he sees a story” about drug companies raising their prices, “he’s going to react to that.”
Trump is preoccupied with drug prices because he’s “following the polls, and consumers are fixated on it,” said Wayne Winegarden, a senior fellow at the San Francisco-based free-market think tank Pacific Research Institute. Drug prices are one of the most visible parts of the health-care system, and patients interact with it more, so it’s top-of-mind.