Trump highlights health agenda with vow to lower ‘unfair’ drug prices

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By Julie Rovner, Kaiser Health News

It was not the centerpiece, but health was a persistent theme in President Donald Trump’s State of the Union address at the Capitol on Tuesday night.

Although the administration has focused more on issues of trade, taxes and immigration, the president laid out a series of health-related goals, including some that even Democrats indicated could be areas of bipartisan negotiation or compromise. Trump vowed to take on prescription drug prices, pursue an end to the HIV epidemic and boost funding for childhood cancers.

He also took a victory lap for goals promoted by his administration that had been accomplished. “We eliminated the very unpopular Obamacare individual mandate penalty,” he said, referring to the requirement in the Affordable Care Act that most people must have health insurance or pay a fine. It was eliminated as part of the 2017 GOP tax bill, despite backlash from critics that it could undercut Obamacare, after many failed attempts by Republicans to repeal the law.

And Trump noted congressional passage of a “right to try” bill that was supposed to make it easier for terminally ill patients to gain access to experimental medications, but so far few patients have been able to make the law work for them.

The most likely ground for bipartisanship will be the issue of drug prices, where Democrats are as eager as the president to do something to rein in prices that are spiraling upward.

“It is unacceptable that Americans pay vastly more than people in other countries for the exact same drugs, often made in the exact same place. This is wrong, this is unfair, and together we will stop it. We will stop it fast,” he said. “I am asking the Congress to pass legislation that finally takes on the problem of global freeloading and delivers fairness and price transparency for American patients.”