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Trump and Cummings Meet on Hopes to Cut Prescription Drug Prices

Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md., accompanied by Rep. Peter Welch, D-Vt., speaks to members of the media outside the West Wing of the White House in Washington, March 8, 2107, following their meeting with President Donald Trump.

U.S. President Donald Trump and two Democratic congressmen who have been calling for the federal government to lower the cost of prescription drugs for Americans met at the White House Wednesday, and both sides indicated they may be able to cooperate on the pricing issue.

Apart from the ongoing national debate about health insurance — in particular, the push by the Republican majority to roll back former President Barack Obama’s signature Affordable Care Act — high prescription drug prices have been a long-term concern for many U.S. political leaders.

Congressman Elijah Cummings has been urging the federal government to negotiate drug prices with pharmaceutical manufacturers, based on studies that show Americans face substantially higher costs than consumers in Canada, for example, as well as in many other countries.

Trump has promised, both during his campaign for the presidency and since his election, to “support efforts to stem the skyrocketing prices of prescription drugs,” as Cummings put it, so the Maryland lawmaker welcomed a chance to discuss the issue in person Wednesday at the Oval Office, accompanied by fellow Democratic Congressman Peter Welch of Vermont.

“President Trump expressed his desire to work with Congressman Cummings in a bipartisan fashion to ensure prescription drug prices are more affordable for all Americans, especially those who need life-saving ... medications,” White House officials said in a statement late Wednesday.

“Reforming the [U.S.] Food and Drug Administration and reducing the regulatory burdens on drug manufacturers so as to enhance competition will help accomplish those goals,” the statement added.

For his part, Cummings said the president received his suggestions enthusiastically and made clear to his visitors that he wants to do something about excessively high drug prices.

Wednesday’s meeting at the White House was seen as a rare opportunity for the president and his congressional adversaries to discuss an issue of mutual concern.

Trump tweeted Tuesday that he is developing “a new system” to cut drug prices and promote competition in the pharmaceutical industry.

Those informal remarks sent stock prices tumbling for pharmaceutical and biotechnology companies, whose complex engineering techniques are seen by many as both a source of innovation in the drug industry as well as a major factor in rising costs.

The president accused drugmakers in January of “getting away with murder” on drug prices. He later met at the White House with the heads of some of the world’s largest drug manufacturers — a meeting that at first was expected to be contentious, but went off cordially. Trump told the drug executives he plans to shorten the lengthy process of gaining the regulatory approval necessary to bring experimental drugs into full production — which in itself also could lower prices.