New York Congressman Paul Tonko, a Democrat from the 20th District, held a town hall forum Thursday night. As WAMC’s Southern Adirondack Bureau Chief Lucas Willard reports, high prescription drug prices were a hot topic of conversation.
Representative Tonko spoke to constituents at Schenectady County Community College at a forum focused on healthcare issues.
The five-term Democrat took aim at Republican attempts to repeal the Affordable Care Act and protections for people with pre-existing conditions. He also warned that the $2 trillion GOP-led tax cut would threaten Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security.
More than once, Tonko was asked about what’s being done to reduce the soaring costs of prescriptions.
Tonko said a legislative solution to address prescription drug prices would need to strike a “tender balance.”
“It’s a complicated issue but we need to go forward and make certain that we bend that cost-curve and at the same time not stifle innovation, that is important,” said Tonko.
Tonko said he has been a long-time supporter of legislation to allow Medicare to directly negotiate drug prices with pharmaceutical companies.
“And there’s also an effort put forth by my colleague and friend, Jan Schakowsky (D) from the state of Illinois where we take a number of steps to address this problem, including allowing Medicare to, again, renegotiate lower prices – part of another bill – but it also caps consumer out-of-pocket costs for prescription drugs and accelerates closure on the Medicare Part D doughnut hole,” said Tonko.
Currently, Medicare negotiates prices by giving Part D plan sponsors the ability to negotiate and encourage the use of generic drugs on its behalf.
Amid Republican efforts to roll back Obamacare, Democrats have continued to rally around healthcare.
Speaking in July on WAMC’s Congressional Corner program with Alan Chartock, Vermont Congressman Peter Welch, also a Democrat, accused pharma companies of price gouging.
“You know, I give credit to the pharma industry. They’ve created drugs that can relieve pain, extend life. And that’s a good thing. But they’re killing us with the prices,” said Welch.
Welch is a chair of the House’s Affordable Prescription Drug Task Force, which in May released a list of items it wants addressed in a national plan to bring down prescription prices. The recommendations were announced just days before President Trump spoke in the White House Rose Garden, announcing a “blueprint” for lowering drug prices.
“In the coming weeks, we will work with Congress to pass legislation that will save Americans even more money at the pharmacy. For that we need the help of Congress and we think that it will be forthcoming,” said Trump.
Welch, speaking on the Congressional Corner, said he discussed high drug prices with President Trump last year.
“And it was very clear to me in our conversation that he knows it’s a ripoff, and he also knows it’s a good political issue because a lot of people who voted for him are suffering with these copays and deductables. Yet he’s done nothing. And that’s the thing that’s so mystifying to me. Why? Why wouldn’t he follow through on a promise he made to people who supported him when he knows that pharma is getting a sweetheart deal and the consumers are getting ripped off,” said Welch.
Also Thursday, Senators approved a spending bill that includes an amendment from Republican Chuck Grassley of Iowa and Democrat Dick Durbin of Illinois that would require drug companies to disclose prices in television adds. The action was included in Trump’s list of proposals.
In July, Democratic Senator Kirsten Gillibrand announced a bill to address drug prices in Troy.