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Rep. Susie Lee Holds Community Discussion on Prescription Drug Costs (and More)

Yesterday, we took a closer look at where the 2020 presidential candidates stand on universal health care. Today we’re taking a moment to remember that even if one of those Democrats defeats President Donald Trump next year, that new Democratic president can’t get all that much done without Congress passing legislation.

At her district office near Henderson earlier today, Rep. Susie Lee (D-Las Vegas) spoke with local health care activists about what she and her House Democratic colleagues are doing on prescription drug costs. She also spoke with local reporters on how House Democrats have worked on this and other issues as they’ve also decided to advance impeachment proceedings against President Donald Trump.

“I am here working on prescription drug prices. I am working on health care. I am working on student debt. I will continue to do my work for my constituents in addition to what is happening with the inquiry.”
– Rep. Susie Lee
Photo by Andrew Davey

Ever since House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-California) finally put impeachment on the table late last month, hot on the heels of President Donald Trump’s brazen efforts to coerce the Ukrainian government to “get dirt” on former Vice President Joe Biden, the White House has tried to spin the House’s impeachment inquiry as some kind of death sentence to any potential for bipartisan deals on issues like gun safety and health care. At the Giffords/March for Our Lives Forum here in Las Vegas last week, Senators Chris Murphy (D-Connecticut) and Amy Klobuchar (D-Minnesota) sought to debunk these White House talking points and make clear that Congress can “walk and chew gum at the same time”.

Yesterday, Rep. Susie Lee released an op-ed for the Las Vegas Review-Journal explaining why she now supports the impeachment inquiry. Today, she explained how the House already began working on such policies and legislation before Pelosi decided that Trump’s attempt to weaponize aid for Ukraine was a bridge too far. On the White House blaming Democrats for any legislative stalemate, Lee declared, “If anyone is refusing to move forward the agenda of the American people because of the impeachment inquiry, that needs to fall on their feet.”

Lee continued, “I am here working on prescription drug prices. I am working on health care. I am working on student debt. I will continue to do my work for my constituents in addition to what is happening with the inquiry.” She then listed some of the major bills the House has passed since January, such as reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act, the Equality Act (to protect LGBTQ+ civil rights nationwide), the Raise the Wage Act ($15/hour national minimum wage), and bills to require background checks for nearly all gun purchases. As Lee put it, “We’re not holding anything up. […] We’ve passed over 250 bills, major pieces of legislation. By the way, universal background checks, that bill has been sitting on Mitch McConnell’s desk since February.”

“[People] shouldn’t go bankrupt. They shouldn’t ration their medicines. They shouldn’t have to debate whether to pay their rent, put food on the table, or pay for their medications.”
– Maria-Teresa Liebermann, Battle Born Progress
Photo by Andrew Davey

Just days before Pelosi announced the official impeachment inquiry, she and other House Democratic leaders unveiled their omnibus prescription drug plan. Among other things, their plan enables the federal Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary to negotiate prices for up to 250 prescription drugs, make the HHS negotiated price available to patients covered by Medicare and private insurance plans, and cap out-of-pocket prescription drug costs to $2,000 per year for patients on Medicare Part D.

During the roundtable discussion with constituents and advocates, Lee noted, “It doesn’t matter if you’re a Democrat or a Republican. This issue affects everyone.” The others at the table, who represent groups such as AARP, the Culinary Union Health Fund, and the Nevada Hospital Association, thanked Lee and other House Democrats for taking up this legislation, though they also urged Congress to do even more.

During the program, Battle Born Progress Deputy Director Maria-Teresa Liebermann shared the story of Vivian Leal, an activist based in Reno who goes to Rep. Mark Amodei’s (R-Carson City) district office every Friday to ask him to do something about prescription drug costs. Thus far, House Republicans and the Trump administration have yet to coalesce behind any plan to curb prescription drug costs.

For Liebermann, “This is a good first start, but you do need to do a lot more. For decades, the pharmaceutical industry and their lobbyists have owned Congress […] This needs to stop.” She continued, “[People] shouldn’t go bankrupt. They shouldn’t ration their medicines. They shouldn’t have to debate whether to pay their rent, put food on the table, or pay for their medications.”

“That’s coming out of the pockets of my constituents, so we want to hold pharmaceutical companies accountable. This is a bipartisan issue.”
– Rep. Susie Lee
Photo by Andrew Davey

According to AARP Nevada’s Barry Gold, 27% of Nevadans stop or do not take enough of the medicine they need because costs are too high. He and others at the table praised the State of Nevada’s recent endeavour to require more transparency in pharmaceutical pricing. Yet as we noted yesterday, when it comes to the conversation on the 2020 campaign trail, pundits and some party leaders have mostly focused on the presidential candidates offering phrases like “Medicare for All” and “lower costs for everyone”.

When we asked what she and her constituents need to hear from the candidates on health care and prescription drugs, Lee stressed, “The most important thing, when it comes to prescription drug prices, is getting the control of pharmaceutical companies out of the arena and making sure we work for the American people.” She then pointed out that when pharmaceutical companies try to take a page from “Pharma BroMartin Shkreli’s handbook on inflating drug prices far beyond the confines of the law of supply and demand, “That’s coming out of the pockets of my constituents, so we want to hold pharmaceutical companies accountable. This is a bipartisan issue.”

Photo by Andrew Davey

Lee then added, “We may live in divisive times, but prescription drug pricing is one matter where we must all come together.” Yet despite Trump’s occasional signals of support for some kind of prescription drug price controls, he’s yet to endorse any Democratic proposal or follow through on any of his own.

Meanwhile, some of Trump’s Democratic challengers are stepping up with their own plans. Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-Massachusetts) has a bill to authorize the federal government to manufacture cheaper generic drugs when pharmaceutical companies make their offerings unaffordable for most patients. Senator Bernie Sanders (I-Vermont) has a bill calling for Medicare to negotiate lower drug prices and re-import medicine from countries with stringent pharmaceutical safety standards. And just this week, South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg has released his own plan that includes forcing pharmaceutical companies to forfeit their patent rights and up to 95% of their drugs’ revenue if they refuse to negotiate lower prices. So far, they and their Congressional colleagues who are not running for president all agree on doing something about prescription drugs. They just have to figure out a final and full plan of action they can all agree upon.

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