“I think very expensive champagne will be popping in drug company boardrooms across the country tonight,” said Representative Elijah E. Cummings, Democrat of Maryland, who has been investigating drug prices for the last year. “The president is apparently abandoning his campaign promise to authorize Medicare to negotiate directly with drug companies to lower prices.”
Administration officials were somewhat defensive about the president’s plan, saying it was bold and significant even though it was not what Democrats wanted — or what candidate Trump embraced.
In a round of television interviews on Friday morning, Alex M. Azar II, the secretary of health and human services, said the president’s plan included “over 50 different initiatives — very sophisticated, the kind of thing you’d expect from a C.E.O. like Donald Trump, getting at the real heart of the business problem.”
Mr. Azar said on the Fox Business Network that the president’s plan would “unleash those who negotiate for us with the greater powers of the private sector” to obtain good deals.
In trade negotiations, the White House wants to put pressure on other countries to increase the prices of brand-name drugs, with the expectation that pharmaceutical companies would then lower prices here at home.
America’s trading partners “need to pay more because they’re using socialist price controls, market access controls, to get unfair pricing,” said Mr. Azar, a former top executive at the drugmaker Eli Lilly and Company. “And they’re doing it on the backs of their patients. God help you if you get cancer in some of these countries.”
Other nations, also struggling with high drug prices, scorned Mr. Trump’s advice on this issue.
“Drug manufacturers in the United States set their own prices, and that is not the norm elsewhere in the world,” a spokesman for the 28-member European Union said on Friday. “E.U. member states have government entities that either negotiate drug prices or decide not to cover drugs whose prices they deem excessive. No similar negotiating happens in the U.S.”
Dr. Mitchell Levine, the chairman of Canada’s Patented Medicine Prices Review Board, which reviews prices to ensure they are not excessive, said in an interview, “With our price regulations, drug companies are still making profits — just lower profits than in the United States.”