In a public appearance last week, OMB associate director for health programs Joe Grogan cracked an odd joke that awkwardly drew attention to the prevalence of ex-Big Pharma bigwigs in the Trump administration.
According to Politico, while apparently answering a question about “how the Trump White House’s differs from the Obama administration on drug pricing” during a Q&A ostensibly focused on a little-known drug discount program, Grogan had a little giggle and indicated that the Trump administration would do better on tackling high drug prices because “the current administration has more people with drug experience looking at the issue” (Politico’s paraphrasing).
Administration action focused on drug prices is in the news, in part thanks to reports of high pharmaceutical profits rounding out this most recent financial quarter, and in part thanks to greater noise surrounding the drug discount program that was the primary focus of Grogan’s remarks (the program is called 340B).
Grogan may have helped shift attention away from criticisms that the Trump administration is doing too little to combat high pharmaceutical prices, though it’s unclear whether that was his intention or just a happy coincidence.
Whether his claim is fair or not is a subject for greater debate. When plotting a run for President ahead of 2012, former Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour joked about knowing the Pentagon was full of pork barrel spending because as a lobbyist, he helped situate it there. Barbour’s appeal as the man to cut that supposed waste was never tested in an electoral context, though it was met with effective nods from more libertarian-leaning conservative pundits.
Unlike Barbour’s, Grogan’s similar claim may be put to the test, assuming that President Trump remains a candidate in 2020. Although if prices do in fact come down, his joke will probably disappear into the archives of the Internet, never to be remarked upon again.