President Donald Trump with Alex Azar, secretary of Health and...

President Donald Trump with Alex Azar, secretary of Health and Human Services, at a White House event unveiling the administration's plan to lower drug prices on Friday. Credit: Bloomberg / Andrew Harrer

WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump on Friday unveiled his plan to lower drug prices that, instead of cracking down on the pharmaceutical industry he once accused of “getting away with murder,” relies on private-sector competition, transparency and incentives.

Trump promised to tackle the “tangled web of special interests” and prune federal red tape, but he abandoned campaign promises to let Medicare use its leverage to negotiate lower drug prices or allow the importing of cheaper drugs from Canada and other countries.

“We will have tougher negotiations, more competition and much lower prices at the pharmacy counter. And it will start to take effect very soon,” Trump said in his address in the White House Rose Garden.

Trump blamed the rapidly rising prescription drug prices — which Americans say is one of their top concerns — on health care providers and the drug lobby, which spent hundreds of millions of dollars to protect the status quo, and the government for turning a “blind eye” to the abuse.

“But in this administration, we are putting American patients first,” he said.

His plan would boost competition in drug markets, give private Medicare Part D plans better tools to negotiate discounts on behalf of seniors, develop new incentives for drug manufacturers to lower list prices and create options to lower patients’ out-of-pocket spending.

Trump also took aim at European and other countries that “extort” artificially low prescription drug prices in their government-run health care plans, shifting the cost of drug research and development to Americans through higher prices.

The president said Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar — who, Trump pointed out, was a drug company CEO — will push for a mixture of administrative and legislative changes to curb manufacturers’ and distributors’ prescription drug costs.

Azar said the administration already has lowered drug prices with approvals of more than 1,000 generic drugs and Medicare drug reimbursement rules, and it would begin moving ahead on many executive actions without needing congressional approval.

The Food and Drug Administration, he said for example, is taking a look at how to require drug manufacturers’ direct TV ads on prescription drugs to disclose list prices. That way, people can know whether it is an expensive or affordable drug before they ask their doctor about it.

But the plan will take time to create change, Azar said. “This is not a one-and-done deal,” he said. “This doesn’t get solved tomorrow. It’s going to take years to restructure the system.”

Republicans reacted favorably to Trump’s strategy. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said, “I look forward to reviewing the proposals and working with the president and his team to help patients and protect taxpayers.”

But House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said, “Instead of putting forth a bold initiative, the president pulled his punch.”

Phyllis McCready, vice president at Northwell Health, said: “Allowing drugs to be released quicker in the U.S. market is something we need to do, as is having pharmaceutical companies be more transparent in pricing. But we also need to balance reduction of cost with research and development.”

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