As the U.S. Senate prepares to debate and vote on a Republican health care bill this week, Sen. Patrick Leahy says senators should be focusing on finding improvements to the U.S. health care system, not trying to dismantle the Affordable Care Act.
At a news conference at the Community Health Centers of Burlington’s Riverside Clinic, Leahy said Senate Republicans’ newly unveiled health care bill would make Americans less healthy.
“We do know it’s extremely bad,” he said. “Millions of Americans are going to lose health insurance coverage. Hundreds of billions of dollars – let me say that a gain: hundreds of billions of dollars – will be cut from the Medicaid program, forcing states to cut services, change eligibility, or both.”
Leahy noted that the Community Health Centers of Burlington, a federally qualified health center, gets quite a bit of its money by serving Medicaid patients.
“This is not good news,” Leahy said. “These services are in jeopardy.”
Don George, the CEO of Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Vermont, said the Republican plan would have “dire consequences” in Vermont and nationally.
Leahy said the focus in Washington on a bill that would “repeal and replace” the Affordable Care Act is a case of politicians trying to turn what amounts to a “bumper sticker” slogan into real policy. He said senators should instead focus on making the health care system serve Americans better.
“Instead of saying ‘We just throw everything out,’ why don’t we talk about things that can improve our health care?” Leahy said.
Leahy pitched one improvement of his own: A bill that would help bring down prescription drug prices by outlawing anti-competitive practices used by some drug companies to block competition.
“Unfortunately some of the brand name drug companies are engaging in predatory practices at the expense of consumers,” Leahy said. “These tactics include withholding necessary samples from generic companies needed to gain approval from the FDA.”
George said that while much of the Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Vermont’s proposed 12.7 percent increase in premiums for next year comes from non-health-care costs, rising drug prices are hurting efforts to control the overall cost of health care in the U.S.
“Of the health care side of it, prescription drugs was a huge driver of [cost increases],” George said. “The increase in specialty pharmacy drugs for that filing was 14 percent.”
Leahy says his prescription drugs pricing bill has bipartisan support in Washington, and he's hoping it will pass separately from the Republican health care bill under consideration in the Senate this week. Leahy’s bill was introduced in April, though he has introduced the policy proposal before.
Here's a closer look at what the bill could mean for individuals: