Opinion: Trump Aids Big Pharma To Continue “Getting Away With Murder”

As a few Americans have been learning as of late, there is seemingly no barrier to the Trump camp and Republican Congress’ willingness to make being sick, infirm, or injured either prohibitively costly or deadly. One of the favorite claims of Republicans, and now Trump, is that the primary goal of wiping out the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare) is to “make healthcare accessible” to all Americans. Healthcare, like prescription medicine, has always been accessible to all Americans if they could afford it; it is why the “Affordable” Care Act was enacted.

In what turns out to be yet another blatant Trump lie, when “tiny hands” promised to take decisive action to reduce the rising cost of medicine, and stop pharmaceutical corporations from “getting away with murder” with exorbitant and ever-rising drug prices, he didn’t get approval from the big pharmaceutical companies.  Trump took “decisive action” all right, but it was contrary to his “pledge” and another sign that “his government” exists to help corporations, in this case drug companies, continue “getting away with murder.” And to keep big pharma’s’ shareholders’ concerns about “murderous” drug prices out of public earshot.

Shareholders and investor groups with 13 pharmaceutical companies acutely aware of  “skyrocketing drug pricesfiledshareholder resolutions” last year to force their governing boards to “more meticulously detail their price increases for major medicines, and to provide the rationale and criteria used for these price increases.” That level of scrutiny outraged the drug industry and a couple of days after big pharma’s CEOs met with the Trump at the White House, his Republican SEC commissioner quickly obeyed the CEOs and blocked the “shareholders’ resolutions” from even being voted on.

Shareholders had sought transparency initiatives specifically designed to bring more scrutiny to never-ending drug price increases, a serious issue and cause for concern among the shareholders, investor groups, and the general population; Trump never cared about drug price increases no matter his pledge to the people.

The Trump SEC action was yet another win for the pharmaceutical industry and represents the latest victory for “the industry that has been ramping up efforts to stop governments from taking action to reduce, or force more disclosure regarding, ever-increasing drug pricing.” It was another assault on “healthcare access” as just last month federal lawmakers did big pharma’s bidding by blocking legislation allowing Americans to “purchase lower-priced FDA-approved medicines from Canada.” Over the past two years, big pharma has been incredibly successful in their war to prevent passage of “drug pricing transparency bills.”

Big pharma’s lawyers pressed Trump’s Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) regulators to approve their prohibition on the people who own the companies, investors and shareholders, from voting on initiatives about skyrocketing drug prices. The resolution’s proponents issued a press release expressing outrage that their push for more information was so forcefully opposed by the Trump SEC doing big pharma’s bidding.

According to Donna Meyer of Mercy Investment Services, one of the shareholder groups responsible for filing the resolutions:

Skyrocketing drug prices have thrust pharmaceutical companies into the public eye as health care is a growing concern for the public. As shareholders concerned about the long-term prosperity of these companies, we are mystified as to why they are not willing to engage in a more fulsome discussion of pricing strategies. This active obstruction to a simple request for transparency has raised some serious concerns about their commitment to those who rely on these critical drugs versus their commitment to profits.”

A different investor group’s spokeswoman, Susan Vickers of Dignity Health, approached the issue from a slightly different, but equally valid angle claiming the Trump SEC-big pharma move blocking a vote denied shareholders’ access to vital corporate information they are entitled to as owners of the companies. Ms. Vickers said:

Apart from the obvious risk to public health, we view transparency around how prices are developed as a fundamental tenet of good governance. Investors believe the information to be material, as we see continued secrecy around pricing strategies as a clear legal, reputational and financial risk to our investments.”

Ms. Meyer also said that even though shareholder resolutions opposed by “corporate” typically don’t pass, just the fact they get on the ballot makes them “powerful tools” to pressure corporate boards to change.

The value of having a resolution like this on the proxy is that so many people become aware of the concern, and you can try to get large institutional investors on board. If you get 20 or 30 percent support on a resolution, then then the board is more likely to listen to the [shareholders’] concerns.”

Obviously, Trump’s SEC chief agrees with big pharma’s CEOs that they cannot allow people to be aware of the shareholders’ concerns regardless they are the real “owners of the companies.” It is noteworthy that the SEC under the Obama Administration did not side with big pharma on a nearly identical set of resolutions in 2015 – resolutions big pharma’s CEOs sought to quash with the same zeal as the most recent ones.

With a Democrat in the White House, the SEC informed Gilead Sciences and Vertex Pharmaceuticals that the corporations “were obligated to let shareholders vote on a separate proposal that would have forced the companies to disclose the risks they face from their pricing policies.” Although it is true the two corporations’ investors and shareholders defeated the measures, the publicity and vote did bring the issue to the fore and likely incited the most recent resolutions from investors and shareholders.

Pharmaceutical companies claim that investors and shareholders have no business knowing anything about these pressing “pricing” issues, even though they do technically own the companies. But in the same manner the Trump and Republicans refuse to abide by the will of the voters who “technically” own the U.S. government, it is folly to think Trump’s SEC will ever do anything any differently; especially when pharmaceutical corporations that own Republicans are involved.