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Trump and Pharma Leaders Can Find Common Ground

Trump’s recent moves on immigration and Russia’s role in US politics may be dominating headlines, but at the end of last month President Trump also took critical action on an issue that is no less important: the future of our healthcare industry and patients’ access to treatments and cures.

President Trump and Vice President Pence recently met with leaders from the pharmaceutical industry to discuss possibilities for high-tech job growth and healthcare policy under the new administration.

During the presidential campaign, Trump promised market-driven healthcare reforms, especially repealing and replacing Obamacare. Trump’s populist bent also led him to demand drug pricing reform, and commit to keeping treatment affordable for all Americans.

To accomplish this, Trump has proposed a range of new drug policies, many of them smart and long overdue.

US President Donald Trump meets with leaders of the pharmaceutical industry in the Roosevelt Room at the White House in Washington, DC, on January 31, 2017. Photo credit: NICHOLAS KAMM/AFP/Getty Images

Accelerating the approval process for innovative new drugs, for example, will speed up the future delivery of safe and affordable generics, benefiting both patients and the researchers who develop new treatments.

Currently, the backlog at the FDA to approve Abbreviated New Drug Applications (ANDAs), which is required to manufacture generic versions of prescription drugs, is so substantial that the average time before the regulatory agency acts on an application is over four years. This exorbitant wait period threatens patient access to affordable health care, and presents a public health risk to those with rare or more serious diseases.

It is reassuring then that Trump and pharmaceutical leaders have found common ground on the pressing need for streamlining regulations on delivering new treatments and cures to American patients, as well as medical tax reform and improved trade policies that make sure Americans have access to safe drugs.

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All told, cooperation in each of these areas could create as many as 350,000 jobs over ten years, while also ensuring the future of the US biopharmaceutical industry’s global leadership.

The challenge for Trump will be finding the same common ground with insurers, medical personnel, and all those who rely on life-saving drugs and treatment.

Trump, true to his campaign promise to revitalize American manufacturing, also pushed for more drug production in the United States. However, the American pharmaceutical industry is largely automated, so it remains unclear whether this plan would lead to considerably more job creation.

What President Trump and pharmaceutical leaders have yet to agree on is the future of our national social health care programs: Medicare and Medicaid. At the meeting, Trump insisted that, “We have no choice for Medicare and for Medicaid, we have to get the prices way down.”

However, the President neglects that for decades, free market principles have effectively driven down drug costs while paving the way for innovative companies to produce and deliver critical medical advances that lead to safe, low-cost generic copies in the future.

Since the 1960s, the percentage of US healthcare spending for retail prescription medicines has consistently remained at about 10% of all spending. This number is kept so low because nearly 90% of all medicines are already dispensed in generic forms, and even before generics are available, brand competition controls costs and produces savings for consumers.

In the area of Medicare in particular, too much is at stake for Trump to use seniors’ access to critical drugs and treatments as a bargaining chip at the negotiating table.

It will be Trump’s job over the course of his presidency to maintain the well-established balance between safety, affordability, and innovation in healthcare, and to fulfill his promise of lowering drug costs while avoiding the consequences of rampant deregulation.

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Any reforms Trump implements should be market-based and improve access to and affordability of innovative treatments and cures.

Trump’s reforms must also be collaborative, with clear cooperation between all involved: pharmaceutical manufacturers, insurance companies, physicians, and American patients.

If President Trump continues to work collectively, as he signaled in this week’s summit with pharmaceutical leaders, American healthcare has the potential to emerge more innovative, affordable, and patient-driven than ever before.