Trump Is a Big Goddamn Phony When It Comes to Drug Pricing

He Calls Out Merck's CEO for High Drug Prices, Meanwhile He's Been All Talk, No Action, on the Issue Himself

Contributing Editor
Tim Murphy
Tim Murphy
Edwin Pabon

We aren't the first to point out the utter grossness of Trump calling out African-American Merck CEO Kenneth Frazier before he ever got around to calling out white supremacists for the deaths and violence they sparked in Charlottesville, Va.

Just for the record, Trump lashed out at Frazier after Frazier announced he was quitting Trump's American Manufacturing Council to protest Trump's lax treatment of the Charlottesville racists, one of whom plowed a car into a crowd of counter-protesters, killing anti-racism activist Heather Heyer.

Is anyone surprised that Trump lashed out at an African-American business leader before he criticized violent racists? Of course not. That's the racists-are-my-base Trump we all know and despise. We should definitely be outraged and call him out for it -- but we can't really be surprised.

But, let's also take issue with the hypocrisy of Trump's Frazier lash-out.

Classic Trump Doublespeak

"Now that Ken Frazier of Merck Pharma has resigned from President's Manufacturing Council," Trump tweeted, "he will have more time to LOWER RIPOFF DRUG PRICES!"

Since he was a candidate, Trump has been talking about making drugs and medical devices more affordable for Americans. (The astronomical price of such things in the U.S. isn't in dispute here.)

And yet, Trump's done nothing of substance to make that happen. A June draft of a Trump executive order on drug pricing gave no guarantee that the administration was going to attempt to lower drug prices.

The order would do "little more than order more reviews and analyses on something we know to be a fact," says Tim Horn, deputy executive director of the HIV and hepatitis C advocacy organization Treatment Action Group, which often lobbies for drug price fairness. "The fact being that many manufacturers are pricing their drugs and biologics beyond what the market and people can reasonably bear," he told TheBody.com.

The draft order, adds Horn, also "hints at reducing safety standards [and] protecting and possibly extending monopoly protections."

Moreover, Trump can only do so much on drug pricing via executive orders.

"The potential for real impact has to come through Congress," says Horn. "If he'd been smart, he would've pressured congress members during the [failed thus far] Obamacare repeal efforts to introduce new legislation addressing drug pricing, which has a great deal of populist appeal on both sides of the aisle."

Horn's words are echoed by Robert Weissman, president of the health advocacy group Public Citizen:

"President Trump doesn't need to beg Big Pharma to lower its prices," he writes. "[H]e needs to take action. But after lots of bluster on his campaign, Trump seems to have abandoned plans to make medicines more affordable. ... Instead, he has turned to a Big Pharma lobbyist (Joe Grogan, formerly chief lobbyist for the pharma giant Gilead) to coordinate a working group. Leaked papers from that working group suggest its proposals contain virtually nothing to lower prices."

Keep the Pressure on Congress

Nonetheless, it goes without saying that we shouldn't wait around for Trump to actually do something about drug pricing. We, the people, have to keep the pressure on Congress as part of a broader movement for universal health care coverage. With GOP efforts to slash Obamacare having failed for now, the time to pressure Democrats and moderate Republicans alike to support some version of Medicare for all, including the ability of the agency to negotiate drug prices, is NOW.

Start here to learn the details of the Medicare-for-all movement. Then, figure out the group through which you'd like to join the fight. The websites of Sen. Bernie Sanders (who's sponsoring a bill), Healthcare-Now! and the Democratic Socialists of America are great places to start.