Government

While impeachment swirls, Chuck Grassley focused on drug prices

Senator pushing compromise bill that would cap prescription price increases

Sens. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, and Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., are seen in March 2017 during a hearing in the Senate Judiciary Committee. (The Gazette)
Sens. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, and Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., are seen in March 2017 during a hearing in the Senate Judiciary Committee. (The Gazette)

Chuck Grassley started his weekly conference call with Iowa reporters with a disclaimer — he’s not glued to his television monitoring the House impeachment investigation.

“I know everyone in the news media wants to talk about impeachment, at least that’s the way it is out here in Washington, D.C.,” the Iowa senator said Wednesday. “That’s understandable. Impeaching a president is a very serious matter, and Washington is very captivated by it.”

However, the Iowa Republican says that only underscores his belief that “Washington, D.C., is an island surrounded by reality.”

“Right now, most Americans aren’t talking about impeachment,” he said. “They’re focused on real issues they and their families are facing.”

So while Grassley’s staff will be following the public hearings to give him daily updates, the senator said he will be focused on issues important to Iowans he meets when he is back in the state every week.

That includes his plan to control prescription drug prices.

Grassley recently cited a West Health poll conducted with Gallup that found more than 13 percent of American adults said they know of someone who died because they could not afford medical treatment, and 58 million Americans say they can’t afford their prescription drugs.

According to West Health, the percentage of adults who report not having had enough money in the past 12 months to “pay for needed medicine or drugs that a doctor prescribed” to them is rising.

The percentage has increased significantly, from 18.9 percent in January 2019 to 22.9 percent in September. The rate for women — 27.5 percent — has risen 5 percent and widens the gender gap when compared with men, with an 18.1 percent rate.

Grassley’s plan, jointly sponsored by Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., would cap prescription drug price increases year-over-year at the rate of inflation as well as out-of-pocket expenses. That would give people peace of mind, he said.

It also would save more than $100 billion and “have the effect of reducing premiums on commercial insurance beyond saving money for Medicare,” he added.

The Grassley-Wyden bill is a compromise that the sponsors said they are convinced will get the 60 votes needed to bring it to the floor.

Democrats, including House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who is pushing her own proposal, call for negotiating drug prices. Grassley said that would establish a drug formulary that would “put the government between doctor and the patient.”

“When you start having government dictate prices like they do with the (Department of Veterans Affairs), you get about the two-thirds of the formulary that otherwise would be out there on the market,” said Grassley, chairman of the Senate Finance Committee.

“So, in other words, I’m telling you what the Democrats wanted would never get Republican votes,” he said.

If the government was not included in prescription drug pricing, “you wouldn’t get any Democratic votes,” so the Grassley-Wyden bill is a compromise.

ARTICLE CONTINUES BELOW ADVERTISEMENT

“And it’s going to be a moderate position between doing nothing and doing what Pelosi wants to do — having the government dictate prices,” he said, adding that his bill has White House support.

The Senate is split 53-47 between Republicans and Democrats, and Grassley said he has the support of all but two or three Democrats and “ought to be able to get at least half of the Republicans to be for it.”

Comments: (319) 398-8375; james.lynch@thegazette.com

Give us feedback

We value your trust and work hard to provide fair, accurate coverage. If you have found an error or omission in our reporting, tell us here.

Or if you have a story idea we should look into? Tell us here.

Give us feedback

We value your trust and work hard to provide fair, accurate coverage. If you have found an error or omission in our reporting, tell us here.

Or if you have a story idea we should look into? Tell us here.