By Mary Anne Trasciatti, Director of Labor Studies at Hofstra University
One of the most promising policies that Congress is set to include in the reconciliation package is Medicare negotiation, which would finally address the high prices of prescription drugs.
Americans pay more for prescription drugs than any other wealthy country, and millions of families lack the financial means needed to access the medication they are prescribed. That’s why it was disappointing to see a few Democratic members of Congress, including my Congresswoman Kathleen Rice, oppose the inclusion of the strong Medicare negotiation legislation, H.R. 3 in the reconciliation package, particularly given President Biden’s recent call to action on this issue, and the immense help that Medicare negotiation would provide for millions of patients.
As a resident of New York’s fourth district, I was disappointed to see Rep. Kathleen Rice turn her back on her constituents. In this district, nearly 80% of voters believe that current drug prices are unreasonable and 90% support allowing Medicare to negotiate lower drug prices.
Patients across America and right here in New York are struggling with the burden of high drug prices, with life-threatening consequences. Nearly 40% of Americans reported having difficulty paying for their prescription medications last year. Tragically, over a million Medicare patients may die over the next decade solely due to the high price of medicines. These aren’t just statistics, these are fathers and mothers, grandparents, friends, and siblings whose lives are on the line.
Medicare negotiation would significantly reduce the prices that Americans pay for their prescriptions. In fact, the Congressional Budget Office estimates that this policy could reduce drug prices by as much as 75 percent. This would lower premiums for Medicare patients, and these lower drug prices could become available to commercial payers too, which would lower drug prices for commercial and employer insurance plans. Therefore, it is no surprise that Medicare negotiation has received overwhelming support from the American public. In fact, it is the most popular priority in the entire reconciliation package.
Given the incredible support for this initiative, how much it would help those in need, and overwhelming support in the House Ways and Means committee, the recent opposition to this policy by Reps. Kathleen Rice, Scott Peters, and Kurt Schrader will likely not prevent the inclusion of Medicare negotiation in the reconciliation package. However, as voters, we must take note of those lawmakers who choose to bend to the bidding of major pharmaceutical companies, rather than represent the will of their districts.
Rice’s vote in opposition to this policy is especially concerning, given she previously supported Medicare negotiation in 2019, and campaigned on the issue of lowering health care costs in 2020.
American lives will be saved if Congress takes action and includes Medicare negotiation in the reconciliation package. This is why I was grateful to witness President Joe Biden issue his strong support for this policy, and urge Congress to act. I also appreciate the vast majority of Congressional Democrats including Speaker Pelosi who stand with patients and support Medicare negotiation to lower drug prices, despite the intense lobbying by pharmaceutical companies. The reconciliation package is the best chance in over a decade to give Medicare the authority to negotiate drug prices on behalf of Americans. Representative Rice will be faced with another vote on Medicare negotiation when the reconciliation package comes to the House floor. When she does, I hope New Yorkers can depend on her to vote for patients, not drug companies.
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