Instead of taking big, bold steps to lower prescription drug prices, the Trump administration has rolled out yet another incremental measure that merely nibbles at the edges of the problem – while at the same time putting additional burdens on beneficiaries. The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) unveiled a new proposal this week that would limit coverage for drugs which treat several serious and chronic conditions:
“The Trump administration propose[s]… to cut costs for Medicare by reducing the number of prescription drugs that must be made available to people with cancer, AIDS, depression, schizophrenia and certain other conditions.” – New York Times, 11/27/18
As the New York Times explains, insurance plans providing prescription coverage to Medicare beneficiaries would no longer have to cover all of the drugs in six “protected classes.”
*Antipsychotic medicines (to treat schizophrenia and related disorders)
*Immunosuppressant drugs (to prevent rejection of organ transplants)
*Antiretrovirals (for treating H.I.V./AIDS)
*Various Cancer drugs
Some 45 million Medicare beneficiaries currently receive coverage for at least one of these classes of medications.
“Rather than talk about these incremental measures, it’s time for U.S. to do what every other industrialized country does and allow Medicare to negotiate the cost of drugs,” says Lisa Swirsky, Senior Policy Analyst at the National Committee.
In a 2018 Kaiser Family Foundation poll, 92% of respondents said they favored empowering the federal government to negotiate lower drug prices for people on Medicare. President Trump himself promised on the campaign trail to enact such a policy, but so far has not.
Democrats introduced legislation during the current Congress to allow Medicare to negotiate prescription prices, but GOP leadership refused to consider these measures. The 116th Congress taking office in January will have an opportunity to breathe new life into this effort, which would go much further in knocking down drug prices than anything the administration has proposed.
Meanwhile, proposals like the one just announced by CMS put the onus on Medicare beneficiaries – despite administrator Seema Verma’s claims to the contrary. Verma says that if seniors don’t like the restrictions in a drug plan, they can choose a different one. But Swirsky says it is unrealistic to expect seniors to pore through hundreds of pages of policy documents to divine a plan’s rules regarding protected class drugs. Far from putting seniors in the driver’s seat, as Verma insists, this proposal leaves them in the passenger’s seat – with Big Pharma at the wheel.
National Committee president Max Richtman stumped for Senate candidate Mike Espy in Tupelo, Mississippi yesterday. Democrat Espy faces GOP incumbent Cindy Hyde-Smith in a runoff election next Tuesday after neither captured a majority of the vote on November 6th. Speaking to a crowd of Espy supporters in front of Tupelo’s city hall, Richtman called this a “significant election” and proclaimed that a victory for the Democratic challenger would be “an earthquake.”
Richtman told the crowd that Espy is the candidate who will fight for Social Security, Medicare, and affordable health care. As a Congressman representing Mississippi’s 2nd district from 1987-1993, Espy consistently voted on behalf of senior citizens. His commitment to Mississippians’ earned benefits remains unflagging.
“We owe it to Mississippi seniors to honor and protect the commitment we made to care for them through Social Security and Medicare. It is vital that we safeguard the benefits Mississippians have worked their entire lives to earn.” – MS Senate candidate Mike Espy
Seniors make up 15.5% of Mississippi’s population. The state has some 660,000 Social Security beneficiaries and roughly 560,000 on Medicare.
Richtman joined several prominent national figures who have endorsed Espy for Senate, including former Vice President Joe Biden, Senators Cory Booker and Kamala Harris, and Congressman John Lewis, among others.
Biden declared that Mike Espy “promises to protect Social Security, Medicare and the federal requirement that health insurance companies cover people with pre-existing medical conditions.” Congressman Lewis affirmed that Espy will stand up for seniors’ earned benefits while “taking on the corporations to keep prescription drug prices affordable.”
Espy’s opponent, Cindy Hyde-Smith, is on the wrong side of issues affecting older Americans. Appointed last Spring to fill the seat of Republican Senator Thad Cochran, Sen. Hyde-Smith has voiced support for the Trump/GOP tax scam, voted for the bill designed to give Republican candidates a fig leaf on the issue of pre-existing conditions, and boasted that “no one will work harder” to pass a Balanced Budget Amendment, which would force cuts to Social Security and Medicare.
Her campaign became embroiled in controversy after she joked about attending a “public hanging” – prompting accusations of racism. For his part, the Democratic candidate continues to focus on kitchen table issues that affect working families and retirees.
“Mike believes that Mississippians need access to affordable health care and that fixing health care for the American people will require a bipartisan solution. He wants to lower the cost of prescription drugs and rein in out-of-control insurance premiums, high deductibles, and caps on individual health costs.” – Espy for Senate website
While Republicans will control the Senate regardless of the outcome of Mississippi’s special election, an Espy victory would give the GOP a thinner margin – and increase the chances for improving Social Security and Medicare in the next Congress.
“We feel like Mike Espy is the person we need to have in the Senate,” said Richtman.
Three weeks ago, we implored seniors to vote in their own interests on November 6th. In three of the past four midterm elections, older Americans lopsidedly voted for Republicans – despite the party’s proposals to cut and privatize Social Security and Medicare – and slash Medicaid. This time, seniors reversed that trend and voted in roughly equal numbers for Democrats and Republicans, helping the former flip the House of Representatives. (According to exit polling, the split among voters aged 65+ was 52% Republican/48% Democrat – within the margin of error.)
“Nationally, Democrats won in 2018 because when it came to ‘the deciders’ — [older] Americans —they fought Republicans to a draw. And how they did that is the story of this election.” – Politico, 11/13/18
The question is: why? Early indicators point to the issue of health care. In poll after poll, voters listed health care as a high priority in the midterm elections. Little wonder. Congressional Republicans voted for Obamacare repeal legislation that would have stripped coverage from tens of millions of Americans. When they failed to repeal, the Trump administration and Congressional GOP eliminated the Affordable Care Act insurance mandate penalty, and worked in other ways to sabotage the law.
Then there was the Trump/GOP tax scam. As we wrote three weeks ago:
Once the Republicans got control of the House, Senate, and White House, they enacted a tax cut that mostly benefitted the wealthy and big corporations, then claimed retirees’ earned benefits would have to be slashed to pay for it. Both the White House and Republicans in Congress proposed to eliminate or cut services for low income seniors and research into diseases affecting the elderly. – Entitled to Know, 10/23/18
In fact, budget proposals from the White House and the majority party in Congress called for billions of dollars in cuts to Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid – along with a voucher system for Medicare. House candidates vowing to protect these programs prevailed in last week’s elections, including more than 70 endorsed by the National Committee.
A Democratic congressional challenger from Houston, Lizzie Fletcher, ran a campaign ad accusing her opponent of undermining health care protections — featuring a wrecking ball crashing into a cinderblock wall labeled, “People 50 and over.” The message resonated. She – and more than 30 other Democrats – helped the Democrats regain control of the House. In keeping with recent history, Americans aged 50+ made up 56% of the electorate in the midterms.
“[Democrats] won the popular vote for the House by a 6.7 percent margin… driven by a marked improvement among all segments of the electorate. But because older voters made up a larger share of the electorate in this year’s midterms, Democrats’ stronger performance with this cohort was critical to their success.” – Politico 11/13/18
We wrote on October 23rd that a significant shift in the senior vote would represent a historic turnaround. On election day, we saw a swing of 13% toward the Democrats compared to the 2014 midterms. Seniors are starting to vote in their own interests again – shocked into action, no doubt, by the existential threat the outgoing House majority posed to their health and financial security. This trend must continue if older Americans’ health care and earned benefits are to be protected – and hopefully, expanded – moving forward.
For more on the senior vote in the 2018 midterms, watch “Behind the Headlines” on Facebook Live.
Voters have put champions of Social Security and Medicare back in control of the U.S. House of Representatives for the first time in 8 years. Candidates who promised to protect and expand seniors’ earned benefits scored victories in races across the country, including many endorsed by the National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare.
“This is a victory for seniors and their families who have seen their earned benefits threatened time and again under Republican control of the House. The election results mean that Congress can cast aside the tired trope of ‘entitlement reform’ (code for cutting benefits), and work vigorously to boost Social Security and Medicare for current and future retirees. The new majority will serve as a firewall against further attempts to slash Medicaid and repeal or sabotage the Affordable Care Act – and challenge President Trump to fulfill his campaign promises to protect Social Security and Medicare.” – Max Richtman, National Committee President and CEO
Legislation to protect and expand seniors’ earned benefits can now receive serious consideration in the 116th Congress after languishing under Republican control. This includes Rep. John Larson’s Social Security 2100 Act, which would increase benefits and keep the system solvent for the rest of the century – and several other bills supported by the National Committee to boost Social Security and Medicare.
When the new Congress convenes in January, Congressman Larson (D-CT) likely will assume the chairmanship of the House Social Security Subcommittee. Another champion of Social Security and Medicare, Rep. Richard Neal (D-MA), is expected to wield the gavel in the powerful House Ways and Means Committee, while Rep. Frank Pallone (D-NJ) probably will head the House Energy and Commerce Committee, which oversees Medicare.
“We will work with the new House leadership and members to give retirees a much-needed raise in their earned benefits – and defend seniors from demands that Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid be slashed to pay for tax cuts for the wealthy and big corporations. This is a tremendous opportunity to restore American values of fairness and compassion – including caring for the sick and elderly – to the people’s house.” – Max Richtman, National Committee President and CEO
The Republican candidate for the open Senate seat in Arizona, Martha McSally, probably speaks for other GOP contenders across the country when she says, “I’m getting my a– kicked” on the issue of health care. Congresswoman McSally has been hammered by her Democratic opponent, Krysten Sinema, for twice voting to repeal the Affordable Care Act, which, among many benefits, protects Americans with pre-existing conditions from denials of coverage and punitive premiums.
“Now locked in a competitive statewide Senate race against Democrat Kyrsten Sinema, McSally finds herself blistered by campaign attack ads and having to explain her past votes and current views on health care and the Affordable Care Act, which has grown in popularity in recent years. About 20 million more Americans gained health insurance after the act passed.” – Arizona Republic, 10/29/18
With more than 70% of voters telling pollsters health care is a crucial issue in the mid-term elections, Republican candidates like McSally have been selling themselves as protectors of patients with pre-existing conditions – when they and the Trump administration have spent the past two years trying to obliterate protections that Democrats like Sinema truly support:
“Before the Affordable Care Act, we know many, many people could not get health insurance because they had some sort of condition like diabetes, asthma, heart disease… Someone very close to me filed for bankruptcy over medical bills because of this issue.” – Krysten Sinema, Democratic candidate for U.S. Senate in Arizona
“Republicans are not really interested in this project, but they know the voters really want [health care], so they’re trying to pretend to support it when they don’t,” author and journalist Jonathan Cohn told MSNBC today. Republicans are “trying to rewrite history… brazenly,” he said.
When Trump and the GOP failed by a thin margin to repeal the Affordable Care Act, they began sabotaging the law. The administration reneged on Affordable Care Act payments to keep insurance markets stable, failed to provide adequate public outreach during open enrollment periods, and changed the rules to allow the sale of skimpier policies that don’t protect pre-existing conditions. Congress passed the Trump/GOP tax cuts, which neutralized the Affordable Care Act insurance mandate – further weakening the law.
Twenty Republican state attorneys general filed a lawsuit arguing that the zeroing-out of the Obamacare mandate should render the entire law null. One of them is Missouri attorney general Josh Hawley, who seeks to unseat Democratic Senator Claire McCaskill. He had the audacity to claim that he supports protections for pre-existing conditions while being party to a lawsuit that would erase them.
“Scott, in a tight race, desperately launched a last-minute ad campaign declaring his support for protections for people with preexisting conditions — despite trying to kill Obamacare for years.” – Washington Post, 10/26/18
President Trump has set a problematic example for Republican Congressional candidates by twisting the truth for partisan ends. He claims that Republicans – not Democrats – will protect Social Security and Medicare, despite proposing budgets that would slash both programs by billions of dollars over ten years. The President spreads the myth that Republicans will protect people with pre-existing conditions, despite being the saboteur-in-chief of the Affordable Care Act.
The President, McSally, Hawley, Scott and other Republicans should not count on voters having amnesia about GOP actions to undermine the Affordable Care Act, before they suddenly became ‘champions’ of pre-existing conditions for the mid-terms. Americans remember the relentless late night votes for Obamacare repeal bills (the American Health Care Act, the Better Care Reconciliation Act, the ‘Skinny Repeal’) that the GOP pursued like a dog with a bone, and thankfully lost. They remember the Trump/GOP tax scam that neutered the insurance mandate at the heart of the Affordable Care Act. Voters know which party has fought for people with pre-existing conditions and which one simply postures while trying to gut affordable health care for all Americans.
“Anybody even dimly aware of recent history ― specifically, the part where Democrats passed the Affordable Care Act, only to have Republicans spend eight years trying to repeal it ― should recognize the claim as a lie… GOP leaders have already made clear that they will try once again to repeal the health care law if they can.” – Huffington Post, 10/25/18
It’s true. While many GOP candidates cling to the falsehood that they support protections for pre-existing conditions, party leaders have hinted that they may renew their attempt to repeal the Affordable Care Act after the midterms. That’s just one more reason not to trust the current majority with the future of Americans’ health care. Of all the issues in the coming election, none goes to Americans’ fundamental well-being like this one. At some point in their lives, most voters will have pre-existing medical conditions – and won’t want to be locked out of coverage or pay exorbitant premiums. That’s why it’s so important to separate the health care charlatans from the health care champions, and vote accordingly.