Guest Columnist

Finkenauer: Let's work together to cut health costs

Congresswoman Abby Finkenauer speaks at the Progress Iowa Corn Feed at Newbo City Market July 14, 2019.
Congresswoman Abby Finkenauer speaks at the Progress Iowa Corn Feed at Newbo City Market July 14, 2019.

Those of you who know me know that I grew up in a working family. My dad was a union pipefitter-welder, and my mom worked in Dubuque Community Public Schools. When I fight for our district in Washington it’s for my hardworking mom and dad, it’s for my friends and neighbors, it’s for the folks who are busting their tails every day to create a better life for themselves and their families.

I am proud that Iowa has one of the highest ranked health care systems in the country — that is a testament to our hospitals and health providers.

However, there are some serious challenges and threats facing our providers and Iowans seeking care.

This month, I held a prescription drug price roundtable at the Waterloo Public Library. Unfortunately, but unsurprisingly, I heard that rising prescription drug costs are keeping my friend and neighbors up at night, and some are being forced to make an impossible choice between health care and quality of life.

People are even rationing their insulin — something they depend on — because they’re worried they can’t afford it. That’s why I’ve co-sponsored the bipartisan CREATES Act and the Protecting Consumer Access to Generic Drugs Act, both of which passed the House and now wait for the Senate to take them up. These bills will require more transparency from drug manufacturers and make it easier for cheaper generics to come to market.

Our work is nowhere close to being done, but lawmakers — Republicans and Democrats — are coming together to tackle this problem and bring down skyrocketing drug prices.

The problem isn’t just drug prices though. In some parts of Northeast Iowa, some are concerned that they won’t be able to access care in their communities.

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Our rural health care facilities are the bedrock of many communities, but too many are in danger of closing their doors. This summer, we have seen a clinic shutter in Northeast Iowa due to low Medicare reimbursement rates. Another hospital is closing its obstetrics unit, which could force some new mothers to travel long distances to get the care they need. Medicaid privatization has only made this worse, too, with rural nursing homes closing, forcing families to move their loved ones farther away to get the care they need. We also have parents unsure of where or how their child is going to get the care they need. That’s just not right.

One in every five rural hospitals in our state is at high financial risk. More closures like this could mean our neighbors across the district have to drive hours to get the care they need. We need to fight for these hospitals and clinics in our small towns. That’s why I am championing legislation — like the bipartisan Conrad 30 extension and the Nursing Workforce Reauthorization — that will help bring doctors and other health care professionals to rural areas as well as raise Medicare reimbursement rates.

Right now, Iowa physicians have the seventh lowest Medicare reimbursement rate in the country. That means that many providers struggle to cover the cost of treating Medicare recipients — and the problem is only becoming bigger as our population ages. My bipartisan Keep Physicians Serving Patients Act would ensure doctors receive appropriate payments from Medicare for the vital care they provide. Our doctors have been asking for this for two decades and it’s beyond time for Congress to deliver.

When it comes to our health care system, we still have a long way to go. It’s clear that prescription drug costs are too high, that our providers feel shortchanged by a flawed reimbursement formula, and that some in Washington are more focused on dismantling the entire law that protects people with preexisting conditions rather than building on what works.

That’s why I’ve spent my first eight months in Congress working with Republicans and Democrats to bring down health care costs and protect access to high-quality care. I will continue working with anyone who is serious about helping my friends and neighbors sleep soundly without the growing burden of health care hanging over their heads.

When we work together, we can make a positive difference for the hardworking folks in our district, in Iowa, and all over this country.

Democratic U.S. Rep. Abby Finkenauer represents Iowa’s 1st District.

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