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Monday, December 09, 2019 {{ new Date().getDay() }}

Reprinted with permission from Creators.

 

President Trump’s plan for lowering Medicare drug costs is good, even cutting-edge. As Democrats successfully campaign on health care, Trump has come back with a proposal that could save Medicare patients and taxpayers $17.2 billion over five years. Too bad its chances of happening are close to nil.

We’ve seen this talkie before. As Election Day approaches, Trump makes a promise that seems to favor the public over big-money interests. The moment the last vote is counted, it vanishes.

But let’s examine this interesting idea. It would link the price Medicare pays for most doctor-administered drugs (under Medicare Part B) to an “international pricing index.” The index would include pricing data from other developed countries.

It is scandalous and true that Americans pay far more for drugs than others. Trump cited the extreme example of Treanda, a cancer drug. Medicare pays nearly seven times the index price. (The Department of Health and Human Services lists the 16 countries used for this index.)

Why all this skepticism? Here are reasons that this campaign pledge has but a snowball’s chance: Recall that Trump ran for president vowing to let Medicare negotiate drug prices with the pharmaceutical companies. That excellent idea died once the election dust cleared. And it was effectively buried the day Trump named Alex Azar, a former top executive at the pharmaceutical giant Eli Lilly, as HHS secretary.

In an obvious ploy to seduce the electorate, Azar theatrically called Trump’s new plan the drugmakers’ “ultimate nightmare.” Do you seriously believe that this Big Pharma alumnus would do anything to disturb the sleep of his former colleagues? Just last June, Azar denounced having Medicare negotiate drug prices as “socialized medicine.”

The lobbying group Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America responded to Trump’s eleventh-hour proposal with this subtle statement:

“The administration is imposing foreign price controls from countries with socialized health care systems that deny their citizens access and discourage innovation.”

The industry need not worry, though. On health care matters, Trump and Republican lawmakers have not exactly been the little guy’s friend. They’re now dismantling the Affordable Care Act screw by screw, including its protections for patients with pre-existing conditions.

In passing the Medicare drug benefit in 2003, the Republican Congress forbade Medicare to negotiate drug prices. This new rule would not require congressional approval, but drugmakers exert brutal control over most Republicans (and some Democrats). Republican House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, for one, has collected over $1 million in pharmaceutical company donations since 2007 — $218,500 since the beginning of last year.

So where do you think this threat to drugmaker profits is going to go?

By the way, the administration says it doesn’t expect to propose the rule until next spring, leaving plenty of time to forget about it. And one must ask why such a solid concept wasn’t introduced over the past two years.

Although tying drug prices to levels set by other countries would save Medicare money, we must also question why America the Great would rely on the likes of Belgium and Greece to do its bargaining. Isn’t Trump supposed to be the master negotiator? Medicare is the world’s largest buyer of drugs. Why can’t the United States, with its massive market, negotiate its own prices?

Like Trump’s promise to replace Obamacare with “something terrific,” this one is almost surely headed for oblivion. The crashing irony is that Trump’s Medicare drug proposal would have a greater chance of moving forward if Democrats took over the House.

Suppose, on the other hand, you believe Trump would work against Big Pharma’s interests. If so, I have a big infrastructure plan to sell you.

Follow Froma Harrop on Twitter @FromaHarrop. She can be reached at fharrop@gmail.com. To find out more about Froma Harrop and read features by other Creators writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators webpage at www.creators.com.

 

White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany

White House Press Secretary Kayleigh McEnany was forced to defend President Donald Trump's recent attacks on MSNBC host Joe Scarborough on Tuesday, an unenviable task she nevertheless intentionally signed up for. She desperately tried to divert the attention back to Scarborough — without engaging in the president's conspiracy theorizing — but offered no credible defense of the president's conduct.

Trump has been spreading the debunked theory that Scarborough killed a staffer in 2001 while he was in Congress, even though it was determined she died of natural causes. The staffer's widower wrote a released a letter on Tuesday pleading with Twitter to take down the president's offensive tweets promoting the thoery. He said he was "angry," "frustrated," and "grieved" by the president's promotion of the harmful allegations. Trump is perverting his late wife's memory, he said, and he fears her niece and nephews will encounter these attacks.When asked about the letter, McEnany said she wasn't sure if the president had seen it. But she said their "hearts" are with the woman's family "at this time." It was a deeply ironic comment because the only particularly traumatizing thing about "this time" for the family is the president's attacks, which come nearly two decades after the woman's death.

McEnany refused to offer any explanation of Trump's comments and instead redirected reporters to a clip of Scarborough on Don Imus's radio show in 2003. In that show, Imus made a tasteless joke obliquely referring to the death, and Scarborough laughed at it briefly.

"Why is the president making these unfounded allegations?" asked ABC News' Jonathan Karl. "I mean, this is pretty nuts, isn't it? The president is accusing someone of possible murder. The family is pleading with the president to please stop unfounded conspiracy theories. Why is he doing it?""The president said this morning, this is not an original Trump thought. And it is not," she said, bringing up the Imus clip. But she made no mention of why the president is bringing up the issue 17 years later and with a much larger platform.

When pressed further on the president's conduct, she again diverted blame to Scarborough, saying his morning show unfairly criticizes the president. But again, she offered no substantive defense of Trump.

After McEnany had moved on, PBS reporter Yamiche Alcindor brought it up again: "Why won't the president give this widower peace and stop tweeting about the conspiracy theory involving his wife?"

McEnany said she had already answered the question, which she hadn't, and said the onus is on Scarborough to explain the Imus clip."The widower is talking specifically about the president!" Alcindor shot back. But McEnany called on Chanel Rion, with the aggressively pro-Trump outlet OAN, who changed the subject to conspiracy theories about the origins of the Russia investigation.

"Are you not going to answer that?" Alcindor called out, still trying to get a substantive response to her question, but Rion spoke over her.

At the end of the briefing, another reporter asked whether Trump was looking for any actual law enforcement steps be taken in response to his conspiracy theory. But McEnany had nothing to add, and simply told people to listen to the Imus clip again. As she hurried out of the briefing room, a reporter asked if Trump would stop promoting the theory — but she left without answering.

Watch the exchange about Klausutis, which begins at 48:45.