Freshman Slotkin takes on health care, drug prices

Mark Hicks
The Detroit News
U.S. Rep. Elissa Slotkin greets constituents Pooja Sharma and her husband, Manoj Bhalerao, both of Rochester, at a town hall event at Oakland University in Rochester on Thursday, March 21.

Rochester — Since taking office this year, U.S. Rep. Elissa Slotkin notices how many constituents approach her about their greatest concern: prescription drug costs.

That is why one of the first bills the freshman Democratic lawmaker co-sponsored was to address predatory or exorbitant prescription pricing. 

“Health care and the cost of drugs are top issues I’m working on in D.C.,” Slotkin told an audience of about 200 people Thursday night at Oakland University.

In her first town hall event since being sworn in to represent Michigan’s 8th District in Congress, the political newcomer fielded questions from her constituents and addressed issues they say are critical to them.

The gathering was what she called “an act of radical listening” to guide her work on Capitol Hill, said James Lentini, Oakland University’s provost and senior vice president for academic affairs. “She’s been working very hard since being sworn … and she’s been connecting directly with the constituents here in Michigan and across the district.”

For more than an hour, Slotkin discussed a wide range of topics based on written questions from the audience, including border security, the Green New Deal and student debt.

The former CIA officer, who recently was assigned to the House Armed Services Committee, spent much time discussing legislation she co-sponsored that allows Medicare to negotiate for drug prices in bulk and targets companies that raise those prices more than 10 percent in a calendar year.

U.S. Rep. Elissa Slotkin called her first town hall at Oakland University in her district Thursday, March 21, "an act of radical listening."

“When we have a precipitous price increase, it is not because they’re looking to make up (research and development) costs,” she said. “… It is because they can.”

Her efforts encouraged Ryan Olds, 19, an Oakland University student who works in a pharmacy.

“I’ve seen a lot of people struggle to pay their co-pays,” he said.

Slotkin, won a tightly contested race over GOP Rep. Mike Bishop in the November mid-term election to represent a district that covers Livingston County and as well as parts of Oakland and Ingham counties. Slotkin said she supported having all age groups, particularly college-age people, buy into Medicare.

“I believe it’s the most impactful way that we can bring down the price of health care for everyone,” she said.

Some of the questions for the congresswoman involved President Donald Trump's administration. 

When asked whether she would support impeachment following the completion of Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation involving possible collusion with Russia, Slotkin cautioned against acting before the report was publicly released. 

“We as a nation need to be able to read it, digest it and move forward one way or another,” she said.

In a statement issued before the event, Slotkin addressed Trump’s controversial comments about the late Sen. John McCain.

“The president’s continued disparaging remarks about the late Senator John McCain, a veteran and public servant, are shameful,” she said. “Not only are his comments hurtful to Sen. McCain’s family, they exemplify precisely the division and vitriol that is tearing at the social fabric of our country.”

Slotkin also addressed the president's latest budget proposal, which includes a 90 percent cut for the $300 million Great Lakes Restoration Initiative. 

"We are not going to let those cuts happen," she said to applause.

The congresswoman's remarks heartened Kathleen VanPoppelen, a Rochester nurse who identifies as Republican but voted for her last year.

"She’s pragmatic. She understands you have to work with people to get things done," she said. "I believe in what she has to say."

Manoj Bhalerao of Rochester was impressed he and others in the district had a change to engage with Slotkin.

"This way we can get our issues noticed," he said.

Abigail Brown, 22, an OU graduate, is also from Holly like Slotkin and believes the lawmaker has a clear view of the issues affecting those living in her district.

"I’m very excited for all the things she’s going to do," she said.

People attend a town hall event held by Congresswoman Elissa Slotkin at Oakland University, in Rochester, MI on March 21, 2019.