By Michael Erman and Yasmeen Abutaleb
NEW YORK/WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. President Donald Trump called Pfizer Chief Executive Ian Read on Tuesday to say the company’s July 1 price hikes had complicated the administration’s drug pricing plans, prompting the company to defer its planned increases, according to a source familiar with the matter.
Pfizer said on Tuesday it was deferring its drug price increases on around 40 drugs for no more than six months after Read’s conversation with Trump.
U.S. Health and Human Services secretary Alex Azar called Read previously, and the Pfizer CEO asked to speak directly with the president, the source said.
The conversation took place around 4:30 p.m. ET on Tuesday and lasted about 10 to 15 minutes. Trump, in Brussels for a NATO meeting, had arrived at the U.S. ambassador’s residence at about 3:30 p.m. ET.
Trump tweeted about the call at 6:37 p.m. and Pfizer confirmed it soon after.
The call and subsequent price rollback came a day after Trump took aim at Pfizer and other U.S. drugmakers for raising prices on some of their medicines, saying in a tweet that they “should be ashamed” and that his administration would respond.
Senator Ron Wyden, a Democrat from Oregon, said he was concerned that Trump had struck a “secret, sweetheart” deal with Pfizer and asked for Azar and Pfizer to release details about what was agreed on the calls.
“Instead of proposing meaningful changes that result in lower costs for families and taxpayers, Trump and his Administration are busy scoring cheap PR points that don’t address the fundamental challenges that lead to higher prices every year,” Wyden said in a press release.
Trump rolled out a blueprint in May on how his administration planned to lower drug prices. Later that month, Trump said that some drug companies would announce “voluntary, massive” price decreases in two weeks, though none have materialized yet.
Pfizer on Tuesday said it would defer price increases that went into effect on July 1 until the end of the year or until the president’s drug pricing blueprint goes into effect – whichever is sooner. The company said it would return drug prices to their pre-July 1 levels as soon as technically possible.
Pfizer, one of the largest pharmaceutical companies, now likely will not raise drug prices until after the 2018 midterm elections in November.
That gives Trump, who made lowering prescription drug prices a top 2016 presidential campaign issue, a short-term victory he can point to in the run-up to the elections, which are being closely watched to see if Trump’s fellow Republicans will be able to maintain control of both the Senate and the House of Representatives.
(Reporting by Michael Erman and Yasmeen Abutaleb; Editing by Nick Zieminski)