Presidential State of the Union addresses have historically been long on spectacle and applause lines and short on specifics, and last Tuesday’s address by President Donald Trump was no different. As has been the case with previous State of the Unions, the speech was both lambasted and lauded, as well as combed through by interest groups to gauge a president’s thinking on their key issues. A big healthcare takeaway was the statement by President Trump that, “One of my greatest priorities is to reduce the price of prescription drugs.” He said, “In many other countries, these drugs cost far less than what we pay in the United States. And it’s very, very unfair. That is why I have directed my administration to make fixing the injustice of high drug prices one of my top priorities for the year. And prices will come down substantially. Watch.”
In Massachusetts, the Center for Health Information & Analysis (CHIA) identified prescription drug costs as the leading driver of healthcare cost growth in the state. In its 2017 Annual Report on the Performance of the Massachusetts Health Care System, CHIA noted that from 2015 to 2016, healthcare expenditures in Massachusetts increased by $1.9 billion. Payments to pharmacies for prescription drugs increased by $547.6 million, or 6.4%, from 2015. This increase accounted for 27.5% of overall medical expenditure growth, the highest of any service category. More recent figures will be released by the state in March.
U.S. Rep. Joe Kennedy III (D-Mass.) delivered the Democratic response to the president’s speech. Speaking from Fall River, Kennedy decried the divisive nature of the current political culture, saying, “They are turning American life into a zero-sum game ... where we can guarantee America’s safety if we slash our safety net. [Where] we can extend healthcare to Mississippi if we gut it in Massachusetts.” Kennedy added, “We choose a better deal for all who call this country home ... We choose a healthcare system that offers mercy, whether you suffer from cancer or depression or addiction.”