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Texas reps should back Medicare fix

November 27, 2018

Plenty of things will change in Washington in January when Democrats take over the U.S. House of Representatives, and the transition could prompt Republicans to take a fresh look at some old issues. One of them would be something that really shouldn’t be partisan — a fairly simple way to reduce prescription drug costs for Medicare recipients. Rep. Lloyd Doggett of Texas is taking a leadership role in this effort, and his Republican colleagues should be open to considering it or offering ways to improve it. That group certainly includes our local representatives, Brian Babin and Randy Weber.

The change being pushed by Doggett and other Democrats is pretty straightforward: allowing Medicare officials to negotiate directly with drug manufacturers to get lower prescription costs for millions of Medicare recipients. In turn, those lower costs could ripple through the rest of the country for many other customers who are not on Medicare.

Medicare is a major purchaser of prescription drugs, and that gives it the leverage to negotiate better deals for its customers. Unfortunately, Republican members of Congress have not supported this effort because they would have to overcome the robust drug lobby in Congress and get the government more involved in health care.

It’s high time that both parties stood up to lobbyists on some issues and did what is right for the people who elected them. While the government doesn’t have a great track record when it comes to running things, the plain fact is that it is already deeply involved in health care with the popular Medicare program. This proposal would not expand that involvement a great deal, though it would have a major benefit for millions of Medicare recipients.

This is not a small issue. A study by the U.S. Health and Human Services department confirms what many Americans have long suspected — prescription drug costs in this country are too high, often twice as high as they are in other developed countries. Again, one clear difference is that health programs in those other countries negotiate with drug manufacturers to get better prices for their citizens. There’s no reason this country can’t do the same.

President Donald Trump has signaled in the past that he supports this move, even claiming that the pharmaceutical industry is “getting away with murder” with its high prices. With a Democratic House, Congress might finally be able to present him with a bill that could reduce this problem.

Most major drug manufacturers make healthy profits. A change like this would reduce their income but hardly push them into bankruptcy. It would have a bigger impact on millions of Americans struggling to pay for their prescription medications, and that’s clearly worthwhile.

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