GOP should tackle high drug costs

Amelia Hamilton

Republicans not only hold the White House, but both chambers of Congress as well, thanks in no small part to rural voters. If they want to hold on to that power into 2018 and beyond, they’d be wise not to ignore the base that gave it to them. Republicans promised these voters time and again that they would take on big pharma and work to take on high drug prices but now, given the chance, they’re wavering.

Take the little-known but hugely important 340B Drug Discount Program, for example. Since the 1990s, this program has been a pretty good deal for everyone — it has given pharmaceutical companies access to millions of guaranteed patients through the Medicaid program in exchange for providing these medications at a substantial discount to hospitals, like those in rural areas, which serve low-income communities.

This is an issue so clear that Democrat Peter Welch of Vermont and Republican Morgan Griffith of Virginia came together this year to improve the 340B program for rural hospitals, ensuring that even more drugs were available. Now, however, these companies are trying to roll back the program, and Republicans like Michigan’s Congressman Tim Walberg need to stand strong for their constituents.

Rural hospitals, which mainly serve Republican districts, are already struggling. Since 2010, 66 rural hospitals have closed, creating problems both for local health care and local economies. These closures have taken place across the South and Midwest — areas that were crucial to Trump’s victory last November. A 2016 report by the National Rural Health Association warned that 1 in 3 rural hospitals are at risk for closing. That is nearly 700 hospitals, which are frequently a top employer as well as health care provider in their area, that could close, devastating local areas. Without the 340B program allowing them to care for uninsured and low-income patients with reduced-priced drugs, they will have to close their doors.

While health care continues to be a critical, but divisive issue in Washington — Republicans should be looking for real solutions that provide real benefits to Americans, especially if they don’t further burden taxpayers. It’s curious that some in the administration and Congress seem to be promoting a false narrative that by reducing or dismantling the 340B program they could save taxpayers money. When in reality the opposite is true. The 340B program has no direct cost to taxpayers and potentially saves them money by providing populations that often rely on government assistance access to life-saving, preventative medicines they otherwise may not be able to afford.

If Trump and Congressional Republicans don’t stand up for their constituents against special interests, 2018 will look more like 2006 than 2016.

Amelia Hamilton is a national commentator and author focusing on education and government overreach. She is based in Traverse City.