Trump’s SOTU Claim of Biggest Decline in Prescription Drug Prices Is for a One Month Period

Trump speaking at podium with American flag in background

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From the campaign trail to the White House, President Donald Trump has decried the costs of prescription drug prices. It was no different in Tuesday night’s State of the Union Address. Trump continued to express concern over drug prices and took credit for what he said was the “single largest decline” of drug prices in 46 years.

During the president’s annual address to Congress and the nation, Trump said that as a result of his administration’s efforts to lower the costs of prescription drugs, “in 2018 drug prices experienced their single largest decline in 46 years.” The president’s statement may not make a lot of sense, particularly since the turn of the calendar year, numerous companies have posted increases to many of their branded drugs, as well as some generics.

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Trump’s statement is technically true, it requires some context, which fact-checkers were quick to provide. The price decline that Trump was speaking about is tied to the 12-month change in the consumer price index for prescription drugs. The CPI for prescription drugs tracks a set of medications including brand drugs and generics. In the month of December, the CPI for prescription drugs dropped .6 percent, which Associated Press fact-checkers noted is the largest decrease since April 1973. While that was a significant drop for CPI, the AP noted that the index can fluctuate wildly. For example, for the 12-month period ending in June 2018, the CPI for prescription drugs rose 3.2 percent, CNN fact checkers noted. Over the course of 2018, the CPI for prescription drugs actually rose more than it fell. For the year, the index showed a 1.6 percent increase when comparing the full 12 months of 2018 with the entire previous year, the AP said.

Paul Hughes-Cromwick, an economist with Altarum, a nonprofit research organization, told the AP that the numbers for the entirety of 2018 provide a better picture of prescription drug prices. He said the December dip could indicate that “something quirky happened in December.”

As BioSpace has reported on multiple occasions, the price of many branded drugs has been increased this year. In January, Johnson & Johnson raised the price of many of its most-prescribed medications by 6 and 7 percent. The life sciences giant followed other companies such as Pfizer, Allergan, Sanofi, GlaxoSmithKline and others who had already announced plans to increase prices this year. According to CNN, prices have increased on more than 2,300 prescription drugs since the start of 2019. But, CNN also said that the average price increase for 2019 has been about 6.8 percent, which is below the average price increase of 10.4 percent in 2018.

Concern over prescription drugs has become one issue where Democrats and Republicans have found some common ground. Congress has been conducting several investigations into the prices of drugs and the White House has been pushing for some reforms as well, including a recent proposal by Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar to lower the prices and out-of-pocket expenses by encouraging manufacturers to pass discounts to patients instead of insurers.

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