HERMANTOWN, Minn. — Price transparency and more affordable costs for pharmaceuticals could be the law of the land now were it not for Nancy Pelosi.
So said Rep. Pete Stauber, R-Hermantown, during a brief interview following a rural health roundtable in Hermantown on Wednesday morning, Oct. 2.
The price of prescription drugs in the U.S. is drawing attention in Washington and in state capitals and at the grassroots level. Two Saturdays ago, a small group of people with diabetes from Minnesota and Wisconsin crossed the border to Fort Frances, Ontario, saving thousands of dollars on the insulin that will see them through the rest of the year.
Stauber’s case rests on a bill that was approved unanimously by the members — 30 Democrats and 24 Republicans — of the House Commerce and Energy Committee to which Democrats added three amendments on the House floor.
“They voted to hold the pharmaceutical companies to the transparency, the pricing of and the reasons for,” Stauber said of the original bill. It also would have brought generic versions of drugs into the system sooner, he said.
“That piece of legislation, just how it came out of committee, it would have been, in my opinion, almost unanimous in the House and almost unanimous in the Senate, and it would have been law today,” Stauber said.
Instead, he said, air-drawing a rectangle with his finger, it’s sitting in Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s bin.
Rather than blaming McConnell for not moving the bill forward, Stauber said House Speaker Pelosi is responsible for allowing the amendments that made it unpalatable to Republicans.
Stauber and the rest of Congress will have more opportunities to consider drug pricing. Pelosi offered her own plan last month, linking what people in the U.S. would pay to the international price index. The 24 Republicans in the aforementioned House and Energy Committee all called her plan “socialist” and a “political stunt,” Modern Healthcare reported.
A more moderate bill authored by Sens. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, and Ron Wyden, D-Ore., passed in the Senate Finance Committee, although the majority of Republican members opposed it, Politico reported.
Stauber met with reporters after participating in what was described as a roundtable discussion on innovations with rural health care. Other participants included Blue Cross Blue Shield, Second Harvest, the Minnesota Farm Bureau and MN Rural Mental Health, spokeswoman Chelsea Thompson said.
The roundtable itself was closed to the general public and to the media, except for TV video shots.
An advisory announcing the event to the media stated that it was hosted by Better Care America, an organization that’s funded by the insurance industry. But when asked about that, Stauber said the roundtable was entirely his thing.
“It wasn’t sponsored by anybody,” Stauber said. “We invited them. I need to be able to get their input because they’re the experts in their respective fields. And then my job is to try to take those good suggestions and then implement them into legislation.”
When asked about the cost of health insurance, Stauber changed the subject.
“Today’s conversation was about making us healthier and particularly having access when we need it,” he said.
An example, Stauber said, is rural mental health care.
“It’s a big problem not to have places where people can go when they need it now,” he said. “When somebody’s going through a mental health crisis, they can’t wait for an appointment seven weeks from now.”