Trump plans to push up US drug prices for ‘socialised’ state-run health services

22 May 18

The US president Donald Trump has indicated he wants to use post Brexit trade talks with the UK to push up the price of drugs for the NHS.

The president has claimed the high costs that US patients face for medicines are a result of other countries’ health services “freeloading” at the expense of the US.

Countries, such as the UK, with a single-payer government-run health service are able to negotiate better costs for drugs than the fragmented insurance-based system in the US.

This is forcing US pharmaceutical firms to give pills and treatments at low cost to the NHS, Trump has said.

US health and human services secretary Alex Azar suggested to CNBC last week that the White House would use trade negotiations on countries with “socialised” healthcare.

He said: “The reason why they are getting better net prices than we get is their socialised system.”

Azar added that the Trump administration would do what it can to push up drug prices abroad, to lower the cost for US patients.

“On the foreign side, we need to, through our trade negotiations and agreements, pressure them,” he said.

“And so we pay less, they pay more. It shouldn’t be a one-way ratchet.”

But UK ministers have vowed to protect the NHS against this. UK international trade minister Greg Hands told The Times that the government would protect the health service during negotiations with the US.

He said: “I think the most important thing to understand, with all trade agreements, is that no trade agreement prevents a country from having the domestic right to regulate.”

In the UK, prices are dictated in part by National Institute for Health and Care Excellence, which has successfully secured discounts for some of the most expensive drugs.

Prime minister Theresa May refused to rule out giving US companies access to NHS contracts as part of a post Brexit trade deal with the Trump White House, at the beginning of the year in the House of Commons.

Trump said earlier this month: “America will not be cheated any longer, and especially will not be cheated by foreign countries.”

He added that it was “unacceptable” that medicine that costs a few dollars in other countries, could cost “hundreds of dollars in America”, despite being exactly the same.

“It’s unfair. It’s ridiculous. It’s not going to happen any longer. It’s time to end the global freeloading once and for all.”

In response, UK shadow health secretary Jonathan Ashworth also lashed out and said: “This is yet more evidence the NHS could be at risk in any trade deal.

“Rather than holding his hand Theresa May needs to send a clear message – our NHS is not for sale.”

Read our blog on the impact these tariffs could have on the NHS, by Neil Clothier, senior expert at negation specialists Huthwaite International.

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