On Wednesday, April 17 at the Corvallis-Benton Public Library, Rep. Peter DeFazio (OR-4) hosted a town hall to speak about access to healthcare and the cost of prescription drugs. Sharing the stage with Rep. DeFazio were Julie Manning, Vice President of Marketing and PR at Samaritan Health Services, Sherlyn Dahl, Executive Director of the Community Health Centers of Benton and Linn Counties, and Dr. Craig Williams of OSU’s School of Public Health.
Rep. DeFazio and the panel spoke about the importance of defending the protections offered by the Affordable Care Act (ACA), also known as Obamacare. Currently, there is a complex battle in the federal courts and in Congress over whether the ACA will survive, spurring Democrats like Rep. DeFazio into action in their districts, attempting to build public support to defend the healthcare law.
Posters at the front of the room displayed data about what would happen if the ACA were struck down or repealed. Over 850,000 Oregonians would see a rise in their premiums. 28 percent of young adults in Oregon would be kicked off their parents’ plans. 31.2 percent of residents in Oregon’s 4th district, stretching from Corvallis south to the California border, would lose coverage entirely because of pre-existing conditions. 33 percent of American adults said they have skipped medication because of cost.
One of the main features of the ACA was the expansion of the Medicaid program in individual states, known here as the Oregon Health Plan (OHP). Manning pointed out less than half of recipients in Benton County would have coverage if were not for the expansion. Manning credited the ACA with sharp declines in emergency room visits and readmissions.
Dahl spoke about her work in community health centers, federally qualified health services which serve mostly low-income patients. The ACA caused the uninsured rate among her patients to drop by almost half.
However, DeFazio and the panelists also addressed the shortfalls of the ACA, namely the lack of controls on prescription drug pricing.
“The fix for this is really at the regulatory and legislative level,” said Dr. Williams, an expert on drug pricing.
Dr. Williams explained that since the bulk of research and development of pharmaceuticals has been essentially outsourced to the private sector, and the FDA oversees the safety and efficiency of the drugs themselves but has no authority over the drugs’ pricing, the private pharmaceutical companies are allowed to price drugs as they wish. If a cheap, generic version of a drug is made which drives the price down, one or more of the companies will likely stop making the drug, as it would be no longer as profitable to do so. However, this often leaves few, or even one player selling certain drugs, allowing those companies to leverage control over the price.
Rep. DeFazio explained that during the negotiations for the ACA, the Obama administration believed it could take on insurance companies, or pharmaceutical companies, but not both at once. He believes many of these shortcomings, such as caps on drug prices and further expanding coverage to the tens of millions of Americans still left uninsured, can be addressed by a Medicare-for-All bill which DeFazio and over 100 other Democratic members of the House have co-sponsored.
The panel spent the last half of the meeting taking questions from the audience, including detailed questions about capping drug prices, spending on consultants and “middlemen”, and a call from the last questioner to “cut back on our sacred cow” of the defense and military budget in order to finance “more important things” like healthcare, drawing a cheer from the crowd.
-By Ian MacRonald