WASHINGTON — The Trump administration began Wednesday’s White House roundtable on lowering prescription drug prices by rehashing actions the administration has already taken to lower healthcare costs and increase price transparency.
“We’re here today to hear about how the healthcare system too often harms people with unfair surprises — they have some surprises in a very negative sense, medical bills and the like,” said President Trump. “The pricing is hurting patients. We’ve stopped a lot of it, and we’re going to stop all of it … it’s very important to me.”
“My administration is committed to delivering a healthcare system that takes care of the American people like they haven’t been taken care of before, and we can do that,” he added. “It’s a very complex subject, but we’ve all got to understand it very well.”
The president expressed surprise that anyone would buy a more expensive brand-name drug if they could pay much less for a generic. “One thing that amazed me — I was asking a few of the people including [FDA Commissioner] Scott [Gottlieb], what’s the difference between a generic and a big-name drug where you pay much more money? And they said, ‘Absolutely no difference,'” he said. “Will somebody explain [why people would buy the brand-name version]? You’ll pay four, five, six times more for something that comes in a container you’re more familiar with.”
Trump also lauded the administration’s progress on implementing association health plans (AHPs), under which associations and small businesses can purchase coverage that is exempt from some Affordable Care Act requirements on minimum coverage as well as other rules.
“Through association health plans, we’ve expanded access to affordable high-quality healthcare, particularly for employees of small businesses and self-employed individuals, and we reduced premiums on the federal Obamacare exchanges for the first time in the history of horrible Obamacare. It’s the first time it’s ever happened,” he said.
He also said that as a result of the administration’s efforts on lowering drug prices, “prescription drug prices declined in 2018 for the first time in over 50 years.”
At Trump’s request, Labor Secretary Alex Acosta provided an update on association health plans. “So far we have 30 AHPs and two have gone across multiple states,” he said. Acosta cited the Las Vegas Metro Chamber of Commerce AHP as one example; the chamber has had 500 employers and 100 sole proprietors sign up for its plan, he said.
“It’s providing substantial cost savings,” said Acosta, adding that business employees had been paying $400 to $450 per month for health insurance, but with the new AHP are now paying an average of $230 per month. He noted that the plan included a 2-year rate lock, coverage of preexisting conditions, and optional dental and vision benefits as well as a health savings account. “These are the kind of savings you’re seeing across the nation.”
Acosta said his department was also working with the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) on regulations that would allow small employers to offer health reimbursement accounts (HRAs) “where employers can give employees cash to go out and buy their own healthcare … I’m very excited about that.” A proposed rule on HRAs is expected to be put out for notice and comment by spring, he added.
HHS Secretary Alex Azar also attended the briefing and praised steps his department has taken, including a requirement — which went into effect on Jan. 1, 2019 — that all hospitals post their sticker prices online. “It’s a historic first step in bigger efforts around transparency,” he said. “Ultimately patients should know a service’s price and the price they’re going to really pay.”