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HR 3 Would Significantly Lower Prescriptions for Seniors & All Americans!

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The House passed a landmark bill last week, that if passed by the Senate and signed into law by the President, would lower skyrocketing drug prices in this country by authorizing Medicare to negotiate prices on some medications.

“I’m so proud of the work progressive members, backed by grassroots advocates and organizations, did to ensure the Lower Drug Costs Now Act will live up to its name—and provide real relief to American families. Our effort to strengthen this bill is a huge win for the American people, and it shows what progressives can do when we stick together.”

Representative Pramila Jayapal WA-7

Here’s a summary of the bill from the Alliance for Retired AmericansPress Release shared with us by our HCHR-WA Sponsoring Organization, WA Alliance for Retired Americans:

Bill Requires Medicare to Negotiate Lower Prices and Caps Annual Out of Pocket Spending for Medicare Beneficiaries

Members of the Alliance for Retired Americans are cheering the passage of the landmark “Lower Drug Costs Now Act” in the House of Representatives today. The bill, H.R. 3, will lower skyrocketing drug prices by:

  • Requiring Medicare to negotiate drug prices on the 250 highest priced drugs, including insulin
  • Making the lower negotiated drug prices available to ALL insured Americans, not just seniors
  • Capping annual out of pocket expenses for Medicare beneficiaries at $2,000
  • Using the savings to expand Medicare coverage to include hearing, dental and vision

    “Americans pay the highest prices in the world for prescription drugs and seniors are bearing the brunt of this burden,” said Richard Fiesta, Executive Director of the Alliance. “Today 230 members of the House of Representatives stood up to pharmaceutical corporations and said ‘enough is enough.’”

This is a very big deal and there is a lot of great analysis about HR 3:

And finally — Well done, Mike Andrews and Robby Stern of PSARA! In its November newsletter, HCHR Sponsoring organization Puget Sound Advocate for Retirement Action published this article on Big Pharma’s campaign to defeat HR 3 in their November newsletter, scooping the story published December 3 by the New York Times about participation by some labor unions in Pharma’s campaign, despite very broad labor support for HR 3. 

Report on the December UHC Work Group

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Whackamole is No Longer Working to Keep Healthcare Affordable

The Work Group needs to hear from us! Watch here and Comment here. Public comments accepted until 5 pm, Monday December 30.

Thank you to all who traveled to Olympia to testify!
Thank you to the HCHR-WA members serving on the Work Group: Dennis Delwo, Lisa Humes-Schulz, Sybill Hyppoilite, Rich Kovar, Bevin McLeod, Kelly Powers, Ronnie Shur, Aren Sparck, Lynette Vehrs, and Sherry Weinberg.


The theme of this second meeting was Problem Identification and Root Causes.  The meeting kicked off with remarks from Sue Birch, the Director of Health Care Authority who urged us to weave in coverage, access, eligibility as well as transparency, true costs and potential innovations into our proposals.

I was asked to share my health care story, which you can watch at the 10:37 mark. I spoke to the fact that 40% of Americans cannot afford a $400 emergency1— they don’t have the cash, the savings, nor the credit. With high premiums, deductibles and co-pays — up to $2500 for an individual, and $7500 per year for a family of four on the Exchange– it is a crisis for many Washingtonians. 

Whackamole — keeping premiums down only to have co-pays go up over there — is not working any more. My family’s premiums have more than doubled since 2012, the inception of the ACA and the Exchange. My family will be paying over $2300 per month including the cost of our daughter who is attending college out of state. This year, many Exchange plans had minuscule premium increases, but are offering 30% co-pays— even at the Gold and Silver level. So that would mean, roughly, that if it costs about $30,000 to deliver a baby — a family will will have to pay $10,000.

I wish I had used the example of breast cancer. Treatment costs an average of $100,0002 — so that’s $33,000 a patient would be responsible for under these plans. Clearly, this is unsustainable and unaffordable for most Washingtonians whether they have employer insurance or are on the Exchange.

I shared the story of a mom who asked “How can we use money for health insurance that we literally cannot afford to use?

The facilitators presented an ambitious Work Plan for meeting the expectations of the budget proviso by November 2020. The fiscal analysts told us that they plan to analyze two approaches recommended by the Work Group,  plus a variation of one of the recommendations.

After reviewing the work plan, we broke into breakout groups to work on defining the health care crisis and its root causes. We were given the following Draft Problem Statement to respond to:

“Universal health care means all Washington residents can access effective and appropriate preventative, curative, rehabilitative, and palliative health services. Currently, not all Washington residents have access to necessary health services. Health outcomes for many Washingtonians are worse, on average than comparative high-income countries, especially for people of color, people with incomes below the poverty level, and those living in certain zip codes. Rising health care costs adversely impact families, small business, and taxpayers.”

Each group was asked to refine the definition. My group suggested editing the problem statement to be: “Universal health care means all Washington residents can access effective, affordable, appropriate ….service delivered in a culturally appropriate manner

Our group barely scratched the surface of our task. It would have been more efficient to have had time to ponder the statement prior to the meeting. We have asked to meet before the next meeting so that we can keep pace with the schedule.

As a result of the interruption, the online public comment period will be extended until 5 pm on Monday, December 30th.


Footnotes

  1. From the Executive Summary of the May 2019 Federal Reserve Report:
    • Four in 10 adults, if faced with an unexpected expense of $400, would either not be able to cover it….
    • Over one-fourth of adults skipped necessary medical care in 2017 due to being unable to afford the cost.
  2. Comparison of Treatment Costs for Breast Cancer, by Tumor Stage and Type of Service Helen Blumen, MD, MBA, Kathryn Fitch, RN, MEd, and Vincent Polkus, MSEM, MBA

Experts Agree Medicare for All Would Mean Cost Savings to Households and Businesses

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Donald Berwick, Linda Blumberg, Rep. Ro Khanna, Robert Pollin, and Amirah Sequeira

Last week, Rep. Khanna brought together the authors of the three most high-profile Medicare for All cost estimates, as well as a Medicare for All policy expert, for a candid and thoughtful discussion on estimated costs and savings under Medicare for All.

The panel was live streamed on Facebook — the camera is a little rough at first, and be sure to turn up the volume on Facebook and your device.

With historic levels of support in both chambers of Congress, Medicare for All is closer to becoming a reality than ever before. Economists and health policy experts across the political spectrum have made efforts to ascertain exactly what the landscape will look like under a single-payer system with varying results. A constant prediction is hundreds of billions of dollars in administrative savings will occur across the board under a unified system.-

This panel took a look at the assumptions and predictions underlying these estimates, and how subtle differences in implementation can have outsize effects on overall costs.

— Rep. Ro Khanna’s event announcement

Panelists

Donald Berwick, former head of CMS under President Obama and lead author of the cost estimate underlying Sen. Warren’s Medicare for all plan

Linda Blumberg, economist and Institute Fellow in the Urban Institute’s Health Policy Center and lead author of a recent Medicare for All cost estimate

Robert Pollin, professor of economics and co-director of the Political Economy Research Institute (PERI), UMass Amherst and lead author of a Medicare for All cost estimate

Amirah Sequeira, Lead Legislative Advocate for National Nurses United

Second UHC Work Group Meeting this Monday!

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Mo

The Work Group needs to hear from us! The theme of this second meeting is The Problem and Root Causes. There will also be a very important discussion about the Work Plan for meeting the expectations of the budget proviso by November 2020. Please come to Olympia and speak during the public comment period at the meeting =- or -= watch it on TVW live or recorded (except for the breakout sessions). There will be an online comment period until at least Friday, December 13th. For the agenda and other meeting info, go here.

Mon, Dec. 9 – Universal Health Care Work Group Meeting #2 – Olympia
1-5 PM, Capitol Campus, Legislative Building, Columbia Room 119
416 Sid Snyder Avenue SW
Also available for streaming on TVW, except during the breakout sessions
+Google Calendar  +Apple iCal+Outlook
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Two Quick Actions – Please Sign Two SEIU 1199 NW Petitions

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Plus news from Enumclaw, Spokane and Tri-Cities

1) For Workers & Patient Safety at Swedish/Providence

We’re asking you to support the nurses and healthcare workers of SEIU Healthcare 1199NW at Swedish Medical Center, who are calling on Swedish to raise standards for patients, workers, and our community. Learn more and sign the petition. Caregivers at Swedish tell us they have seen drastic changes at Swedish-Providence, which prioritize executive pay, profits, and expansion above the needs of patients. Providence pays its top 15 executives over $41 million, with routine raises and generous benefits. Yet, frontline workers have their benefits cut and cannot keep up with the rising cost of living.

UPDATE: And in a a truly historic development, 15,000 unionized health care workers in SEIU Healthcare 1199NW, the WA State Nurses Association and UFCW Local 21 recently voted to authorize strikes at Providence hospitals across the state if they do not reach fair contract agreements.

2)  For Neighborcare Health Workers

Hundreds of Neighborcare Health workers, including its medical staff, joined with SEIU Healthcare1199NW a year ago and are now negotiating their first contract. For 50 years, Neighborcare Health has provided primary medical and dental care to low-income, uninsured, and underserved people in Seattle. It is the city’s largest network of community and school-based health centers, serving over 75,000 patients last year. The workers are asking for community support for their efforts to achieve a more collaborative relationship with management in support of Neighborcare’s mission. Learn more and sign the petition. #MovingNeighborcareForward

WSLC’s The Stand also brings us news of other health care labor struggles in Washington state:
St. Elizabeth nurses in Enumclaw to picket, rally Wednesday

Spokane Sacred Heart nurses prepare for a strike as Tri-Cities nurses reach tentative agreement

Rep. Ro Khanna Introduces HR 5010, The State-Based Universal Health Care Act

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Original Co-Signers include Reps. Pramila Jayapal and Adam Smith 

HR 5010, “The State-Based Universal Health Care Act (SBUHC) of 2019  is a landmark step toward empowering states to expand health coverage to every resident. Recognizing the unique position of American states to lead the push for universal health care, Rep. Ro Khanna’s bill provides states with historic access to federal funding streams and regulatory flexibility necessary to implement and support affordable, universal health care plans.” – Rep. Khanna’s Press Release

For background, see HR 5010 Summary & FAQs

HR 5010 gets an initial boost from its 15 original co-sponsors, including Reps. Pramila Jayapal (WA-07) and Adam Smith (WA-09) from Washington state, as well as many Progressive leaders: Rep. Blumenauer (OR-03), Rep. Bonamici (OR-01), Rep. DeFazio (OR-4), Rep. Garcia (IL-04), Rep. Grijalva (AZ-03), Rep. Lee (CA-13), Rep. Ocasio-Cortez (NY-14), Rep. Omar (MN-05), Rep. Pocan (WI-02), Rep. Pressley (MA-07) Rep. Raskin (MD-08), Rep. Schakowsky (IL-09), and Rep. Watson Coleman (NJ-12).

“I’m proud to support this critical bill, which builds on my state-based universal health care legislation from last Congress. So many progressive accomplishments have started at the state level and grown to fuel national change. Americans are fed up with a broken health care system that lines the pockets of insurance and drug company executives at the expense of families struggling to keep up with skyrocketing costs. Supporting state-based universal health care efforts will help build momentum for the grassroots energy we need to achieve bold, structural federal reforms through Medicare for All.”

— Rep. Pramila Jayapal, Rep. Ro Khanna’s Press Release Announcing HR 5010

Advocates from here in Washington state were involved in bringing this bill forward.

Medicare for All Would Cut Taxes for Most Americans

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Over a dozen Washington single-payer advocates attended the National Single-Payer Conference held in Portland, OR October 18-20.  The conference was sponsored by Labor Campaign for Single-Payer and Healthcare-NOW. Check out the conference, including recorded sessions,  here.

One of the primary messages from Mark Dudzic, National Coordinator of Labor Campaign Single-Payer, is that right now, as we gather with friends and family for Thanksgiving and the Winter Holidays, we need to inoculate people against the propaganda and attacks from the formidable opposition to Medicare for All and single-payer from the health care industry and their Republican and Democratic allies. 

Here’s an article, that addresses one of those attacks: “Your taxes will go up. It will cost you more.” Two economists argue the opposite:

Not only would universal healthcare reduce taxes for most people, it would also lead to the biggest take-home pay raise in a generation for most workers

Health care premiums, they argue, are taxes.

Although they are not officially called taxes, insurance premiums paid by employers are just like taxes – but taxes paid to private insurers instead of paid to the government. Like payroll taxes, they reduce your wage. Like taxes, they are mandatory, or quasi-mandatory.

Working and Middle-Class Americans spend between 30 and 40% on taxes and health care. Further, they point out that healthcare premiums are a regressive tax. $15,000 for health care to a middle-class person such as a secretary earning $50,000  is a huge hit to income and affordability as compared to $15,000 spent by a millionaire for the same health care.

Emmanuel Saez and Gabriel Zucman are economics professors at the University of California, Berkeley, and the authors of The Triumph of Injustice: How the Rich Dodge Taxes and How to Make Them Pay, from which the article is adapted.

Emmanuel Saez
Gabriel Zucman