Congressman Elijah Cummings, a Baltimore Democrat, says he’s optimistic after having President Donald Trump’s ear earlier this week, at least on the subject of prescription drug prices.
Cummings, the top Democrat on the House Oversight Committee, said Trump agreed that drug companies "are in many instances charging these very unreasonable prices" and said "he thought it was just unfair to the American people."
"He said he basically wants to save people money, but more importantly he wanted to save lives," Cummings said.
While he and the president are worlds apart on most issues, Cummings said he believes Trump wants to save money on prescription drugs.
"I can read people pretty well," the congressman said. "And he was very much aware and very in tune. He feels very strongly about it."
But many of Trump’s fellow Republicans are resisting his cries to shake down the pharmaceutical industry. Andy Harris, a physician and Maryland’s only Republican in Congress, remains skeptical.
He says you have to weigh lower prescription drug prices "against what the effect on research and development is going to be for the pharmaceutical companies."
Harris says the Pharmacy Benefit Managers - or PBM - already negotiate Medicare Part D – the prescription drug benefit passed under the second President Bush. He says he wants to hear Trump's plan for prescription drugs, but he doubts it will be necessary because the PBM already negotiates for Medicare and for private insurance companies.
"You may be actually be buying a policy from a company that actually may insure more people than Medicare," he said. "So, to believe that their negotiating ability is not going to be as good as Medicare’s is just not believable."
That resistance from the GOP isn’t lost on Cummings. He says he told the president as much.
"We told him that he’s going to have a difficult time with his own party," Cummings said. "That was going to be the most difficult thing and he said he really didn’t care."
While Cummings seems to have come away from his White House meeting trusting Trump on the issue, other Maryland Democrats, like junior Senator Chris Van Hollen, remain skeptical.
"Well, looking at this new TrumpCare proposal, this so-called healthcare plan coming out of the House, they’re moving in the opposite direction," he said. "If you look at this, they’re actually giving tax breaks to the pharmaceutical industry, this is a tax windfall."
But Cummings said he talked to the president about more than drug prices. He raised the issue of Trump’s dystopian view of urban America.
"It makes people feel bad," Cummings said, because "it’s like he’s stereotyping" a large group of people and "trying to judge by the weakest link."
He said Trump agreed with him and "said he would improve upon that."