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What Washington is likely to do about drug prices

Illustration of Capitol dome falling off of pill bottle
Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

Pharma was happy when President Trump first released his blueprint to lower drug prices, which mainly targeted industry middlemen, not drugmakers, and relied on private-sector competition, not direct government intervention.

But things have taken a turn.

  • First, the administration proposed requiring pharmaceutical companies to include drugs’ sticker prices in their TV ads. Industry says it’s a violation of the First Amendment, and there’s a real debate over whether that information would be very useful.
  • Next came a plan to base Medicare’s payments for certain drugs on the prices European countries pay — in other words, to piggyback off of single-payer or highly socialized health care systems. That’s a pretty big plot twist for a Republican administration.

Yes, but: Industry will have ample opportunities to kill both of these proposals, and both could end up having modest impacts even if they do end up happening.

The bottom line: Divided government probably won’t produce a grand bargain on drug pricing. The industry is still very powerful, and Congress' ideological differences are still real.

  • But pharma nevertheless will be on worse footing in January than it is today, and it’s on worse footing today than it was a year ago.
  • It’s increasingly at odds with what seemed like a friendly administration, and it’s losing some of the allies on Capitol Hill who could help fight Trump’s most dramatic plans.

Go deeper: Read the rest of Axios' Deep Dive on prescription drug prices