Government

Grassley hopeful for prescription drug reforms this year

Iowa Republican working with Oregon Democrat in effort to lower prices

Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, listens to a question about health care from Robin Stone of Manchester during a town hall this past April at the Independence Public Library in Independence. “I’ve heard from too many Iowans who can’t afford medications,” Grassley told Iowa reporters Wednesday. That’s why, he said, he is working with Oregon Democratic Sen. Ron Wyden on a bill that aims to lower prescription drug prices, among other reforms. (Jim Slosiarek/The Gazette)
Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, listens to a question about health care from Robin Stone of Manchester during a town hall this past April at the Independence Public Library in Independence. “I’ve heard from too many Iowans who can’t afford medications,” Grassley told Iowa reporters Wednesday. That’s why, he said, he is working with Oregon Democratic Sen. Ron Wyden on a bill that aims to lower prescription drug prices, among other reforms. (Jim Slosiarek/The Gazette)

CEDAR RAPIDS — Sen. Chuck Grassley is “cautiously optimistic” about winning Senate approval of prescription drug reforms he believes will lower the government’s costs for Medicare and Medicaid by billions of dollars as well as reduce beneficiaries’ out-of-pocket expenses.

“That’s real savings for taxpayers, for our seniors and Americans with disabilities,” the chairman of the Senate Finance Committee said Wednesday. He expects a committee vote Thursday on the bill he is co-sponsoring with Oregon Democratic Sen. Ron Wyden to lower prescription drug prices, increase transparency, curb future abuses that lead to high costs, and cap out-of-pocket expenses, “which will give millions of Americans peace of mind.”

Grassley has been working with Wyden, the committee’s ranking Democrat, as well as a few House Democrats to write one bill addressing their issues “because we think we only have one chance of getting the leader to bring up” a prescription drug bill this year.

“I’ve heard from too many Iowans who can’t afford medications,” Grassley told Iowa reporters Wednesday. “For some it’s survival. Sometimes it’s a meaningful quality of life.” At a hearing earlier this year Grassley heard from a woman whose son skipped insulin doses because of the financial toll it was taking on the family. “That shouldn’t be the case with a drug that was invented a century ago.”

A survey released last year by the West Health Institute found that more than 80 percent of Iowa voters are worried about the cost of their prescription medications. It also found that Iowans are not happy with the way Congress and the federal government are handling the problem.

“I don’t blame them. The issue of skyrocketing prescription drug prices has been kicked down the road by members of Congress for far too long,” Grassley recently wrote.

“Without action, we’re on an unsustainable path for taxpayers, seniors and all Americans,” Grassley and Wyden said in a joint statement.

Pharmaceutical companies play a vital role in health care, “but that doesn’t help Americans who can’t afford them,” they said. “Similarly, pharmacy benefit managers and insurance companies have the opportunity to negotiate lower prices, but the American people don’t know how much these middlemen pocket for themselves.”

An analysis by the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office found Grassley’s proposal could save more than $100 billion and lower health insurance premiums and out-of-pocket expenses for Medicare beneficiaries.

His optimism is cautious, Grassley said, because of the powerful pharmaceutical lobby. “It has allies in both political parties,” Grassley said.

“This is a problem, and Americans are demanding solutions,” he added.

Grassley said his proposal is not a Republican attempt to address Democratic calls for Medicare-for-all.

“Even though Democrats consider Obamacare the legacy of that administration, people who are proposing Medicare-for-all are really admitting there are tremendous shortcomings with Obamacare,” he said. “I consider that a separate issue.”

Although the cost of health insurance is connected to prescription drug prices, Grassley said his legislation is only part of the solution.

“We think this (helps) a great deal with keeping health care cost down and health insurance premiums down,” Grassley said. “We’re not going to say this is the answer to the problem, but neither is Medicare-for-all the answer to the problem.”

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

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