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Obama and colleagues to blame for high cost of prescription drugs

Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-Md.) is justifiably outraged.

Prescription drug prices are soaring, and the ranking Democrat on the House Oversight Committee wants majority Republicans to hold hearings.  He has pointed to a Kaiser Family Foundation poll showing 72 percent believe drug prices are unreasonable.

The problem for Cummings is that drug prices have risen dramatically under the Affordable Care Act (ACA) since President Obama broke his 2008 campaign promise to support drug reimportation.  E-mails revealed Nancy-Ann DeParle, the White House lead on healthcare reform and future healthcare private equity guru, cut a deal with the pharmaceutical industry (PhRMA).  The lead PhRMA lobbyist, Bryant Hall, was able to triumphantly report, “Nancy-Ann DeParle just called to say that the WH [White House] is opposing import on this bill, specifically linking to our willingness to be cooperative on HCR [healthcare reform].”  He had been able to earlier report on Obama’s rhetoric against drug prices that “Pres’s words are harmless.  He knows personally about our deal and is pushing no agenda.”

In an e-mail to Hall, DeParle assailed liberal House members like Cummings: “I think we should have included the House in the discussions, but maybe we never would have gotten anywhere if we had.  I know this is tough for you guys, it is tough for us too.  I am the one up there walking the halls in [congressional office buildings] Longworth and Rayburn and getting yelled at by members who don’t like it.”

Keeping his own 2008 campaign promise, Obama’s challenger, Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), was among those Republicans voting for a drug reimportation amendment to the Affordable Care Act, which passed 51-48 but lacked the 60 votes necessary to survive cloture.

During debate, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) argued, “I know and you know that the drug companies are very powerful.  They are delighted that the American people are paying by far the highest prices in the world for prescription drugs.”  Sen. David Vitter (R-La.) was no less militant: “The problem is sky-high prescription drug prices—the highest in the world—that we as Americans pay.”

Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.), the noted political moralist, piously objected to the amendment: “It harkens back to a time when the lack of sufficient drug regulation allowed people to sell snake oil and magic elixirs that promised everything and did nothing.”  Sen. Kay Hagan (D-N.C.), later defeated in the face of health plan cost increases, even argued reimportation would allow “criminals in other countries” to sell drugs.  Thirty Democrats, over half of those in the Senate, voted with the drug industry against reimportation.

With the customers guaranteed unconditionally by the ACA, is it any wonder drug companies have felt emboldened to raise prices?  According to The Hill, “U.S. prescription drug spending increased 13 percent in 2014, the largest increase since 2003[.]”  Ironically, that was the same year some Democrats warned Medicare Part D, the gift President Bush Jr. gave the drug industry, would result in skyrocketing prices.  The law banned Medicare from negotiating lower prices.  A commonality is that Jim Messina, who had a self-proclaimed father-son relationship with Sen. Max Baucus (D-Mont.), who broke from Democrats in supporting Part D, was also instrumental – as Obama’s deputy chief of staff – in working with the drug industry in 2009 in combating calls for reimportation in the ACA.

Further, this year, while Messina was advising Britain’s Conservative government, a number of Cummings’ fellow Congressional Democrats also followed President Obama’s lead in embracing a sweetheart deal written into the Trans-Pacific Partnership to prevent generic drugs from entering the market by extending patent monopolies.  Thirteen were Senate Democrats, and 28 were House members – including Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-Fla.), the Democratic National Committee chair.

All of this suggests Cummings has closer foes on drug prices than Republicans like Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah), the chair of the House Oversight Committee.  He might want to visit 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.

Williams, an Olympia, Wash. Attorney, is a healthcare commentator and former Democratic state representative who voted for a drug reimportation bill that passed into law in 2005.

Tags Bernie Sanders David Vitter Jason Chaffetz John McCain Kay Hagan Max Baucus Robert Menendez

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