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Grassley Speaks to Fiscal Responsibility of Prescription Drug Bill; Announces Updated Bill Coming Soon

November 21,2019

Prepared Remarks by U.S.
Senator Chuck Grassley of Iowa

Chairman, Senate Finance
Committee

Summit on Health Care
Savings: Committee for a Responsible Budget

Thursday, November 21,
2019

Thank
you, President MacGuineas, for that kind introduction.

Good
morning, everyone. And a special thanks to the Committee for a Responsible
Federal Budget for all the work you do to encourage lawmakers to take a
fiscally responsible approach to governing.

Thanks
as well to the West Health Policy Center for all you are doing to foster public
debate on ways to save taxpayer and patient dollars by making our health care
system more efficient and accountable.

The
launch of the Health Savers Initiative couldn’t come at a better time.

I
don’t recall ever meeting anyone who said health care costs were too low.

In
fact, high health care costs consistently rank as one of the top concerns
Iowans raise at my annual 99 county meetings.

Between
the skyrocketing prices of prescription drugs, surprise medical bills, and
ever-increasing insurance premiums and co-pays, health care is breaking the
bank for millions of Americans every year.

A
recent poll by Gallup conducted in partnership with West Health found that
one-in-five American adults said they couldn’t afford the medicines they
needed.

And
34 million Americans said they knew someone who died because they couldn’t pay
for the treatments they needed to survive.

As
the richest country in the world where the most miracle, live-saving drugs are
created, that’s a real shame.

And
it’s something we simply have to address if we want to continue to be the
country that not only invents cures, but delivers cures to Americans in need.

Now,
I’m saying what you already know here, but balancing the federal budget is no
easy task.

Putting
both parties’ spending wish lists on the national credit card seems to be the
only way we’re even able to pass a budget these days.

That
poor habit is setting up our country for big fiscal problems down the road.

And
that’s why today I want to talk to you about some of the biggest ways we can
save taxpayer dollars and put programs we all care about, like Medicare, on a
stronger financial footing.

Earlier
this year, the Senate Finance Committee passed the bipartisan Prescription
Drug Pricing Reduction Act.

This
legislation includes the most significant reforms to Medicare in nearly a
generation.

And
that was the last time I led the Finance Committee, under President Bush, when
I authored the legislation that created the Part D program in Medicare.

Its
free market structure has worked well.

It’s
one of only a few major federal government programs to ever come in under
budget.

While
I’m committed to maintaining Medicare Part D’s free market structure, what
cannot continue are the staggering, year-after-year price increases that far
outpace inflation.

Not
only is the status quo unsustainable from a budget perspective, but it’s not
fair to ask taxpayers and patients to continue to foot the bill, no questions
asked.

I’m
not one to vilify private individuals or businesses seeking to make a profit.

After
all, capitalism is the foundation of our nation’s economy.

It
has lifted billions out of poverty worldwide.

And
its incentive structure has created a system that’s led to the development of
new treatments that save and extend countless lives every day.

But
we also must recognize that when it comes to federal health care programs like
Medicare, where the government has already inserted itself into the market, we
have a duty as legislators to protect the taxpayers.

That’s
why pharmaceutical companies will be able to recover their research and
development costs for past and future drugs when they launch a new medicine.

And
make serious profit on top of it.

But
what they won’t be able to do is continue hiking prices past the rate of
inflation every year.

This
unjustifiable practice must end if there is going to be any sanity in our
prescription drug market or if there is going to be any fairness for taxpayers.

Reforming
federal entitlement programs is often referred to as the ‘third rail’ of
American politics for the electoral consequences that seem to befall anyone who
dares.

But
we’ve flipped the conventional wisdom on its head by not only saving taxpayers
more than $100 billion, but by increasing benefits to beneficiaries.

Our
bill would lower beneficiaries’ premiums by $6 billion, reduce their
out-of-pocket costs by $25 billion, and even lower drug prices in the
commercial market.

And
that’s not just Chuck Grassley saying that, that’s according to the independent
Congressional Budget Office.

This
bill is the only comprehensive, bipartisan prescription drug legislation
currently being debated in Congress.

But
we’re not done yet. Right now, Ranking Member Wyden and I are working to
further improve our legislation by delivering more savings to beneficiaries.

This
updated version of the Prescription Drug Pricing Reduction Act will
improve the out-of-pocket cap by giving seniors and Americans with disabilities
more flexibility when it comes to upfront costs.

It
will also include improved mechanisms to reduce what consumers pay
out-of-pocket when they go to the pharmacy.

In
the coming weeks, we’ll be releasing this amended legislation.

We
hope these changes will help the bill garner the support we need to turn it
into law this year.

It
will be important for Congress to continue working to lower health care costs
in other areas too.

Spending
on prescription drugs accounts for about 9% of national health expenditures.

It’s
a big part of the problem, but more must be done to lower health care costs in
other areas.

I’ve
greatly appreciated the Trump administration’s efforts to lower costs for
Americans, and in particular the recent focus on bringing about much-needed
transparency to the health insurance and hospital industries.

It’s
going to take hard work in both chambers of Congress and all corners of the
Administration if we’re going to achieve truly affordable health care in
America.

And
with that I’d like to say that I’m very glad that my friend, Senator Wyden, is
also here today to talk about our bipartisan bill.

I
often say that in the United States Senate, nothing gets done unless it’s
bipartisan.

And
so at the beginning of this year, Ranking Member Wyden and I sat down together
and agreed to take a bipartisan approach to lowering the price of prescription
drugs.

I’d
like to thank Senator Wyden for his hard work and his understanding approach
when crafting this bill with me.

Because
of his dedication to compromise and to good faith negotiations, lower
prescription drug prices are in sight for tens of millions of Americans.

Now
it’s up to our colleagues in Congress to join us in this effort and finally
deliver what our constituents have been demanding.

I’m
hopeful we can achieve more affordable health care for taxpayers and patients
very soon.

Thank
you.

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