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Rep. Courtney, House Education & Labor Committee Vote to Approve H.R. 3, the Lower Drug Costs Now Act

October 17, 2019
Press Release

WASHINGTON, DC – Today, Rep. Joe Courtney (CT-02) and his colleagues on the House Education and Labor Committee voted to approve the Lower Drug Costs Now Act (H.R. 3) during a legislative markup session.

Americans are paying a disproportionately high amount for prescription medications compared to other countries, and the Lower Drug Costs Now Act would give Americans a better, fairer deal on prescription drug prices by finally allowing for Medicare to negotiate with pharmaceutical companies for lower, market-rate prices.

Rep. Courtney has called for an end to the practice of drug manufacturers “using Americans as a piggy bank,” and has said that H.R. 3 “will be the most significant piece of legislation on health care that will happen in this Congress.” Following today’s legislative markup of H.R. 3 in Rep. Courtney’s committee, I wanted to share with you the entirety of his opening remarks. A transcript of Rep. Courtney’s opening remarks are included below, and you can click here to watch the full video online.

Compiled Transcript of Remarks
Markup of H.R. 3, the Lower Drug Costs Now Act
October 17, 2019

Thank you, Mr. Chairman, and I strongly support this amendment which makes a good bill even better. And I would just want to begin my remarks by reminding people that the American people actually expressed loudly their position on this issue not that long ago, last November, when we had a midterm election that had the largest turnout since 1914, that elected a new majority with a plurality of 10 million votes, shattered all the conventional wisdom about gerrymandered districts and voter suppression, etc. Again, people came out in historic numbers, and if you read the exit polls, and look at the exit polls, the number one issue was the cost of health care, and if you drill down even deeper below that it was the cost of prescription drugs.

What we are doing today is keeping faith with those folks who came out and said "enough is enough" – that we are paying too much in this country both as individual patients and also as businesses, and we have got to put into effect reforms that are going to do what almost is a given in other parts of the world, that they are [making sure] that patients are not left with these exorbitant costs for drugs that have been off-patent in many instances, like insulin, for many years.

So again, when we look at what this amendment is doing, [...] it is allowing the leverage of large groups to negotiate better prices. There is nothing wrong with the transparency bills which have been described our friends on the other side, but at the end of the day transparency does not translate into lower-cost unless you have better leverage to negotiate a better price. And you only have to look at the Veterans Administration to see that right here in the good old USA, we have seen the government do good things for veterans in terms of lowering their prescription drug costs. It is wildly popular with folks who served our country and qualify for veterans' health benefits. I know -- I have the largest military installation in the Northeast with the Groton Sub Base, ten thousand sailors and officers, and lots of retirees. The VA drug benefit, again, is viewed as a godsend in terms of lowering people's out-of-pocket cost for critical medications, and we are simply extending that model to the Medicare system. And in this Committee, we are extending that model to the commercial market through employer-based plans, because we have jurisdiction over ERISA.

Something that I think sometimes is overlooked is that that is part of the Education & Labor [Committee's] work. Back when the Affordable Care Act was passed, this is the committee that originated reforms in the private health insurance market – eliminating pre-existing conditions, extending health coverage to age 26 and families, and the elimination of lifetime limits. And even though our friends tried to repeal the Affordable Care Act, they figure that "age 26" was something to basically leave alone, and that "pre-existing conditions" was something to leave alone. And what we are doing today is just giving private employers the benefit of lower negotiated prices with the leverage that the government can bring to bear. I would note, however, that no one is forcing employer plans to participate in this program. If an employer decides that they think they can get a better deal than what is contemplated in this legislation, they can opt out. This is not mandatory. This is not involuntary. This is not socialism. But what it is, is just common sense application of market forces in terms of giving the leverage of large numbers of consumers to get a better deal for the American people.

In Connecticut, I checked with the insurance department a couple days ago just to see what the impact of prescription drug costs are doing to employer-based plans in our state. And what they have shown is that since 2010, the portion of premiums that employers are paying for health insurance has gone up from when 15% of the cost of premiums was for prescription drugs – today, it is 23% [of the cost of premiums].  The costs are, again, just burying employers and businesses in terms of higher and higher medical costs, and what this amendment is doing, what this committee's work is doing on Title I, is extending the benefit of just good old-fashioned market economics in terms of using leverage to get lower prices for prescription drugs, and to allow that benefit to go into the private sector so that companies are, again, not going to be struggling with the skyrocketing costs that the Connecticut insurance department just reported to me yesterday.

So again, I strongly support the Chairman's amendment in the nature of substitute. This bill will be, in my opinion, the most significant piece of legislation on health care that will happen in this Congress, and again, I think this Committee should come together and terms of giving it the strongest support possible, and providing the relief that people so loudly and clearly voted for last November. I yield back.