Still think the Republican Party gives a damn about fixing our healthcare system? Monday’s healthcare debate on CNN should end all doubts. Amid the GOP’s dogged attempts to repeal the Affordable Care Act (ACA) with no real replacement — this time with a much-reviled Graham-Cassidy bill that only has 24 percent support from voters — CNN’s town hall forum showed that when it comes to solutions, the Republicans have got nothing.
Senators Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) came prepared with facts, figures, and heartfelt stories of real people struggling with a greatly improved but still deeply flawed healthcare system.Their GOP Senate colleagues, Graham-Cassidy bill sponsors Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) and Bill Cassidy (R-Tenn.) came with nothing but the conviction that the ACA is too expensive and doesn’t work. Despite all the numbers and news reports on “Big Pharma Bro” Martin Shkreli and other gougers, they still refuse to believe that for-profit health insurance, medical supply, and drug companies are the main reason why the ACA’s still too expensive and doesn’t work as well as it should.
Yet one of the most striking parts of CNN’s healthcare debate came when the topic shifted to rising drug prices. Unlike many aspects of the ACA, high drug prices can easily be addressed through the kind of small government, market-based solutions Republicans claim they love.
Bernie Sanders’ Medicare for All bill includes a provision that allows Medicare to bargain with drug companies for lower drug prices as Canada’s healthcare system does. Another bill with bipartisan support from Amy Klobuchar, Bernie Sanders, Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and others would simply make it easier for consumers to order drugs from Canada and other countries with strong protections, so they could save money.
Yet these commonsense bills keep failing, perhaps because of lawmakers like Bill Cassidy.
In the CNN healthcare debate, Bernie Sanders argued for throwing our Medicare system’s weight around to bargain down prices with predatory drug companies, while Amy Klobuchar pushed for her more centrist approach for just letting us order drugs from Canada and other countries online. Meanwhile, Bill Cassidy had nothing constructive to say.
“You think negotiating drug prices through Medicare, which purchases huge amounts of money, is a bad thing,” Bernie Sanders argued. “You think it is wrong for pharmacists to be able to buy cheaper medicine, same exact brands, from Canada. Are you going to come onboard that legislation? I don’t know what you’re really talking about, taking over drug companies.”
Sanders then challenged Cassidy:
“What we want to do is lower the outrageously high prices in this country. I’ve given you two approaches that can work: Re-importation, Medicare negotiation. Are you onboard?
Of course, Bill Cassidy isn’t onboard. If he was, he would have noticed that despite all the hostility towards “Obamacare” when it started, over 20 million Americans now have health insurance and access to care that they didn’t have before. Instead, he went all manic pixie boy on us and proclaimed, “Reimportation [letting US consumers buy cheaper drugs from Canada] does not work.” The wild-eyed Bill Cassidy’s next contribution to CNN’s healthcare debate was to violently seize the empty air and shake his large, imaginary piggy bank while ranting:
“Canada has 10 percent of the population of the United States. You could take the entirety of Canada, shake it like a piggy bank, and all the drugs would come out, and it still wouldn’t be enough for us all. There are ways to address this.”
No, Bill Cassidy. The US healthcare system is not a zero-sum game held in a battered, sagging piñata. Every other industrialized nation in the world guarantees access to healthcare — at far less cost — to all of its citizens and residents, and so can we.
But okay. If you don’t like Bernie Sanders’ “socialized medicine,” let’s hear what the more centrist Amy Klobuchar adds to the CNN healthcare debate. After joking about how she can “see Canada from her porch” in Minnesota, she declares:
“I can tell you that the drug prices in Canada are half of what they are in our country. And that’s why Bernie’s been involved in this, Lindsey [Graham]’s good friend, my good friend Senator [John] McCain has a bill, with me, that would allow for this reimportation to bring in less expensive drugs.”
Klobuchar then points out her “re-importation bill” — which allow us to buy our prescription drugs from countries whose governments don’t let Big Pharma gouge their people –has strong bipartisan support.
“Senator [Susan] Collins is supportive of this bill. So that’s what we’d like to work on. Things like that. The Medicare Part D Negotiation. I worked in the private sector. I’m no socialist, okay? And what I want to see is more competition. That’s what this is about. By either having competition with generic companies and stopping them from paying each other off or having competition with drugs from other countries. Because that’s the only way we’re going to bring these prices down right now. Four out of 10 of the top-selling drugs in America have gone up over 100 percent in just the last few years. Insulin up three times, Naloxone up over a hundred percent, that’s the drug that you use for opioid overdoses, this epidemic that’s sweeping our country. And they have the gall to increase the prices of that drug like that. We have to take on the pharmaceutical companies, strong.”
As the cameras pan over to Lindsey Graham and Bill Cassidy at various points throughout this exchange, they often look like deer caught in the headlights.
Watch: Sens. Bernie Sanders and Amy Klobuchar school anti-healthcare Republicans Bill Cassidy and Lindsey Graham at CNN’s healthcare debate.
This article was published on bluestatedaily.com