Congress may finally tackle the high cost of health care


There isn’t much Republicans and Democrats in Congress agree on, and there’s even less common ground between Republican President Donald Trump and the Democrats.

But the one issue politicians of all stripes are being forced to address in a nonpartisan manner is health care. That’s because the American people are demanding a major reduction in costs.

It’s not a new issue and, in fact, it was one of Trump’s signature campaign themes in 2016. He promised to lower the cost of health care, especially prescription drugs prices, by repealing the Affordable Care Act (“Obamacare”) and replacing it with what he contended would be the answer to this long-standing problem.

But from the time he was sworn in as president on Jan. 20, 2017, Trump, who won the election by touting his negotiating skills, has talked a lot about health care – with little to show for it. “Obamacare” is still the law of the land, medical costs continue to skyrocket, and every attempt to bring down prescription-drug prices has been foiled by the powerful pharmaceutical industry that holds sway over Republicans on Capitol Hill.

But the American people aren’t interested in excuses. They want the White House and the GOP-controlled Senate and Democratic majority in the House to get their act together.

Indeed, the results of last year’s mid-term election confirmed the importance of the issue to voters. Democrats’ takeover of the House was the direct result of Americans saying they do not trust Republicans to do the right thing when it comes to affordable health-care coverage.

Now, with the 2020 election very much on their minds, members of Congress realize that they’ll be punished at the polls if there’s no substantive action.

As the Associated Press reported Sunday, lawmakers who have returned from their Fourth of July recess are hoping to set aside their differences on “Obamacare” and forge a bipartisan agreement on lowering health-care costs for people who already have coverage.

Members of the Senate and House are pushing to end surprise medical bills, curb high prices for medicines and limit prescription co-pays for people with Medicare, the wire service reported.

TRUMP’S EXECUTIVE ORDER

For his part, President Trump is acutely aware that his failure to keep a major campaign promise could come back to haunt him next year. Therefore, on Friday, he promised an executive order that would enable the federal government to pay lower prices for prescription drugs. The U.S. would pay no more than the lower amount paid by other nations or companies, according to the AP.

“Frankly, the issue is so urgent for Americans who are facing increasing drug costs that to us it’s really not about who gets the credit,” Rep. Diana DeGette, D-Colo., told the wire service. “It’s about what kind of relief we can give to consumers.” DeGette serves on the House Energy and Commerce Committee, which has a role in shaping health-care legislation.

In the Senate, Republican Lamar Alexander of Tennessee has shepherded bipartisan legislation on surprise medical bills through the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee that he leads.

The legislation would also raise the legal age for buying tobacco products to 21.

“Obviously we will continue to have significant disagreements on … ‘Obamacare,’” Alexander told the AP. “What we’ve done is shift our focus to the larger topic – or the different topic – of reducing health-care costs.”

The senator said he would like his bill on the Senate floor by month’s end.

Numerous pieces of legislation are at various stages in committees in the Senate and House, but the prospects of enactment into law don’t look good. That’s because in the Senate, Republicans and Democrats must work together to avoid gridlock.

In the House, where Democrats have a comfortable majority, passage of legislation does not guarantee ultimate success because Republican President Trump and the GOP-led Senate must be on board. That’s a tall order.

Nonetheless, the reality is that the American people are ahead of the politicians on this life-and-death issue.

“The public demand for action is high on both sides of the aisle, and I’m sure these guys are feeling it,” said John Rother of the National Coalition on Health Care. The coalition represents a cross-section of business and consumer organizations.

“They have to do something, and the question is, is that something going to be meaningful, or is it going on be window dressing?”

If it’s window dressing, the voters will be slamming the doors shut on the lawmakers and perhaps even President Trump for failing to act on the singularly most important issue for the American people.

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