By Pete Zamplas- U.S. Rep. Mark Meadows’ recent House bills include one to lower prescription drug prices, by enabling insurance companies to join in negotiating down drug-makers’ prices.
Meadows, Republican congressman for most of WNC, leads the powerful conservative House Freedom Caucus. His most recent effort — just last week — was in shepherding a bipartisan bill to curb access to child pornography on Pentagon work computers.
On a more divisive front, Meadows and GOP allies are tackling affordable health care as Democrat presidential contenders sparred over their own plans in televised debates June 26-27.
This pivotal issue is trumpeted by both main parties — but with different priorities and plans of action.
“The age-old principle remains,” Meadows said. “Consumer choice — not top-down government price controls — is the key to giving Americans more access to lower-cost, life-saving prescription drugs.”
Many leading Democrats cite widening health care above other issues. “Medicare for All” is the title of Democrats’ so far failed Senate bill in 2017. That phrase is getting louder as chief cry of “Mayor Pete” Buttigieg of South Bend, Ind., Mayor Bill de Blasio of New York; and such U.S. Sens. as Elizabeth Warren (Mass.), Kamala Harris (Calif.), and Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.)
A major controversy is how such leftist White House hopefuls are also calling to promptly do away with private insurance companies — at least for basic health care.
This would enable only the government as the “single payer” to provide health care via Medicare, the Veterans Administration and Medicaid for the poor.
Single payer has sparked an outcry for consumers’ freedom of choice — just as in opposing the “Obamacare” mandate to get medically insured in the first place and with wide coverages (i.e. for pregnancy) that many will never need. Debate is fierce over the government’s track record of cost-efficiency in running wide-scale programs, compared to private enterprise and especially without it as competition.
Former V.P. Joe Biden is among a few Democrats counter in the debates that people should have at least initially an option to get or remain privately insured. He wants a government option in addition to continuing private ones, asserting that most people are “satisfied” with their current coverage.
Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (N.Y.) noted she wrote the moderating portion of Sen. Sanders’ bill two years ago that calls for a four-year transition. It provides insured people to still have a private insurance option — along with non-for-profit public coverage that would however end up as the sole choice after four years. She has said private insurers could carry on only by legally agreeing to compete with a public option.
Republicans are also focusing on health care, exploring ways to lower costs such as for prescription medications — a focus of House Resolution 2038. Rep. Meadows introduced it April 2, to the Judiciary Committee he sits on. It went to the Subcommittee on Antitrust, Commercial, and Administrative Law where it remains.
State-Based Market-Oriented Prescription Drug Negotiations Act is HR 2038’s title. It would enable private “insurers to jointly negotiate prices of prescription drugs purchased (by them) from drug manufacturers. This bill draws on Switzerland’s framework to create a safe harbor from antitrust liability for private health insurers, so they can jointly negotiate.” Meadows added that “the added element of competition will effectively create more choices for consumers, thereby lowering costs for consumers.”
Drug prices are spiraling up, and now account for nearly 20 percent of total health care costs, Meadows stated. He said this is “putting Americans at risk of being priced out of the market,” including for critical “life-saving” medicine. “With the rapid increase in prescription drug spending, it’s critical that we take meaningful steps to lower ouf-of-pocket costs of prescription drugs and improve access for patients. Increasing competition and choice n the marketplace — as this bill does — will be an effective path forward.”
He reasons “competitive negotiations are needed, to involve more players in the market and (thereby) lower drug prices for consumers.”
The bill would limit healthcare company mergers to thwart monopolizing by leading drug manufacturers, and strive for “balancing out the power of the pharmaceutical industry.”
Still, an added, historic barrier to a bill’s passage is alleged “partisan politics” of trying to kill consensus-worthy proposals by the other party to deny the originators political gains.
Meadows is fighting for what he sees as much better savings with private than public enterprise in transit as well. He introduced H.R. 2363 The Federal Transit Modernization Act, in May. It would permit transit agencies to more feasibly partner with private companies, to reduce costs. The bill nixes the current deal-breaking penalty of having to pay salaries for up to six years for government transit employees laid off — due to a (cost-saving) switch to a private company.
Meadows calls that an “outdated barrier” that is “preventing our transit agencies — some in dire financial straits — from making sound financial decisions. Instead of being used to cut costs, spur innovation, and contribute to small business growth, taxpayer dollars are being misused to satisfy anti-growth regulations and special interests.”
As for child porn, Meadows and Rep. Abigail Spandberger (D-Va.) introduced a bill on July 2 entitled The End National Defense Network Abuse (END Network Abuse).
The bill emerged after an immigrations probe identified more than 5,000 federal workers who access the Defense Department’s computer network as subscribers to child porn websites. A Pentagon investigation IDed hundreds of people affiliated with DOD as allegedly passing on such images.
“Peer-to-peer (co-worker) trading of child pornography is an unacceptable practice,” Meadows stated. “Federal agencies cannot allow their networks to become a platform for it.”
To lessen such porn sharing, the bill requires legal pacts between the Pentagon and law enforcement agencies that can share its data as well as such concerned groups as child protection services.
This proposed crackdown is getting bipartisan traction, in both chambers. The House bill is co-sponsored by Reps. Anna Eshoo (D-Calif.) and T.J. Cox (D-Calif.) A Senate version was introduced by Sens. Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii) and Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska).
Meadows told The Tribune at a recent visit to the district that in seeking bipartisan legislation, it helps to present one’s case in a “respectful manner.” He is praised by many for his composure and calmness, even when under fire from media or peers.