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Terri Sewell works to cut prescription costs for seniors

Congresswoman Terri Sewell during a committee hearing. Office of Rep. Terri Sewell

Speaking at a recent U.S. House Ways and Means Committee meeting Rep. Terri Sewell, D-Alabama, told the story of a constituent in Tuscaloosa who can’t afford her life-saving insulin medication. 

The single mother works full time as a nurse, Sewell said, and struggled for years to find an insulin that didn’t cause serious side effects. She found the proper drug but the more expensive drug isn’t covered by Medicare, and she spends $700 monthly of her own money to stay healthy and able to work, Swell said. 

‘Earlier this year she had to sell her house in order to pay her medical bills, and she and her child moved back in with her mother,” Sewell said. “No one should be subjected to less mobility or poorer side effects because the drugs that they need are financially out of reach, or that their insurance company will not cover it, and no one should have to sell their house just so they can afford the medicine that they need and deserve.”

Sewell hopes that a provision she wrote into the Elijah E. Cummings Lower Drug Costs Now Act will mean more people like the woman won’t be placed into such desperate situations. 

The act was renamed in honor of the late Rep. Elijah Cummings, who champion for lower healthcare costs. He passed away on Oct. 17. Sewell attended his funeral on Friday. 

Currently, many seniors enrolled in the Medicare Part D program have to pay $10,000 or more in out-of-pocket costs annually for medication. Sewell’s addition to the bill caps those out-of-pocket costs at $2,000 and allows seniors to pay that money back in equal installments over the year rather than all at once. 

“Stories like Melinda’s are a heartbreaking reminder of just how out of control drug prices really are, and the impact that their cost have on the lives of countless Americans. She isn’t alone,” Sewell said in a message to APR on Friday. “I’ve spoken to too many Alabamians who make tragic sacrifices to afford the medications they need to survive. In giving Medicare the power to negotiate directly with drug companies and making those lower drug prices available to Americans with private insurance, HR3, the Lower Drug Costs Now Act, makes critical steps in lowering prescription drug prices for the American people while saving the Medicare program billions of dollars in taxpayer money.”

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Speaking at the House Ways and Means Committee hearing along with Sewell, Rep. Tom Souzzi, D-NY., said the majority in the House have passed hundreds of important pieces of legislation “only to see them die in the Senate,” before going on to quote President Trump. “President Trump said back in 2017 – ‘They’re setting prices in other countries and we’re not. The drug companies, frankly, are getting away with murder, and we want to bring our process down to what other countries are paying, or at least close, and let the other countries pay more, because they’re setting such low prices that we’re actually subsidizing  other countries and that’s just not going to happen anymore.’.” 

According to Congressional Budget Office estimates negotiating drug prices, as the act allows, could save the government $345 billion within six years. The House is likely to pass HR3, but in the Senate, Republican leader Mitch McConnell  has said the plan is dead in the water. 

Socialist price controls will do a lot of left-wing damage to the healthcare system. And of course we’re not going to be calling up a bill like that,” McConnell told Politico in an interview on Oct. 17. 

In a response to Politico, a spokesman for House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-California, used Trump’s own call for reforms against McConnell. 

“Senator McConnell is going to have a hard time explaining why he wants Americans to keep being ripped off by big drug companies that are charging less for the same drugs in other countries. President Trump has said that we should be negotiating prescription drug costs ‘like crazy,’ and it’s clear that Mitch McConnell is the biggest obstacle in the way,” Henry Connelly, a spokesman for Pelosi, told Politico. 

According to a review of Federal Election Commission filings by the investigative news website Sludge, from July 1 to Sept. 30 “McConnell’s joint fundraising committee and campaign committee raised $195,300 from executives and PACs of pharmaceutical companies.” 

McConnell, who is up for reelection, received $85,000 during the first half of the year from pharmaceutical companies, according to USA Today. 

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Eddie Burkhalter is a reporter at the Alabama Political Reporter. You can email him at [email protected] or reach him via Twitter.

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