A suitcase overflowing with money

It’s easy to see who Senator Ernst is representing, and it’s not the Iowans who elected her.  All you have to do is follow the money. Since 2016, Ernst has accepted more than $150,000 in contributions from the pharmaceutical industry, including PACS and employees. 

[OpenSecrets, Retrieved 12/16/19]

The Senator voted enthusiastically for the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TrumpTax) that helped Big Pharma save over 8 BILLION in taxes in just the first year.  The Trump corporate tax cuts and its reduction in the taxes on repatriating foreign cash held overseas disproportionately benefited major drug corporations. 

And then there are opioid manufacturers – Senator Ernst voted against an amendment that would have doubled anti-kickback penalties for opioid manufacturers AND she voted against an amendment that would have provided $600 million in emergency spending for the DOJ and the HHS to combat heroin and opioid abuse. 

She has voted with big pharma time and again when it comes to affordable prescription drugs, including voting against allowing the importation of safe prescription drugs from Canada and requiring companies that produce generic drugs to repay the government if the price grows faster than inflation.

And now, rather than working toward a sensible solution, she is backing a weak bill that doesn’t even give Medicare the power to negotiate lower prices with the big drug corporations. What we need is reform that challenges Big Pharma’s monopoly power to set prices as high as they want. 

Brenda from Des Moines shared a story that makes it clear how urgently we need a solution,

“My sister-in-law has asthma and her pulmonologist put her on a new medicine which costs $96,000 a year. That is more than the average person in the US makes in a year. Insurance denied coverage so she will stay on her current medicine which still takes a share of her monthly budget at $300 a month. It doesn’t matter whether insurance covers the cost or not we all pay in the end. Something must be done about outrageous drug costs.”

The Senator continues her refusal to support drug negotiations. Rather than support HR 3, the Lower Drug Costs Act that would truly bring relief to the many Iowa families who are struggling to avoid the sky-high costs of their prescription drugs, she made a big show of her support for a prescription drug bill in the U.S. Senate. She joined with Senator Grassley and others to pass a bill that doesn’t include negotiations, even though 85% of Republicans, Independents and Democrats support empowering the government to negotiate with drug companies for lower prices. In fact, the government already does this in Medicaid and the VA.

The differences in the two proposals are stark.

H.R. 3 Grassley Wyden
Medicare Negotiation Allows Medicare to directly negotiate prices for up to 250 of the mostly costly drugs No
Benefits For Individuals Not Covered By Medicare Negotiated prices are applied to people with private insurance as well as Medicare.  No 
Annual Out-Of-Pocket Cap For Medicare Beneficiaries Establishes a $2,000 out-of-pocket annual cap on prescription drug costs for Medicare beneficiaries. Establishes a $3,100 out-of-pocket annual cap on prescription drug costs for Medicare beneficiaries. 
Savings To Patients Households will save  $158 billion over seven years. Medicare beneficiaries could save about $27 billion in out-of-pocket costs.
Savings To Taxpayers $456 billion $85 billion
Provision To Limit Launch Prices  Creates a maximum price for any negotiated drug with an international price index.   No
Expands Medicare Benefits For Seniors  Adds comprehensive dental, vision, and hearing coverage for Medicare Part B beneficiaries. No

If Senator Ernst truly was looking for a great place to start, she would be demanding a vote in the Senate on the Elijah E. Cummings Lower Drug Costs Now Act, (H.R. 3) which would allow the federal government to negotiate the cost of certain prescription drugs and do more to limit drug price hikes.

Dr. Mary Kemmen sees this first-hand,

“As a doctor who works in procedural and primary care settings, I have countless patients (several each week) who cannot afford medications, ESPECIALLY insulin. These people go without, which is life-threatening. We need to be able to provide basic medications to all Americans.”

It appears that it is more important to Senator Ernst to support Big Pharma and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell than every-day Iowans who are struggling to pay for their prescriptions. According to Kaiser Family Foundation, 1 in 4 Americans has difficulty affording their prescription medication, and almost 30% of Americans did not take medication as directed last year because of cost issues. 

“My son has been taking a medication for his ADD and anxiety for over 10 years,” says Cynthia from Bettendorf. “For years our co-pay was about $50-70 dollars. Last year our co-pay went up to $292.00. This year it is up to $304! This is absolutely ridiculous.”

Senator Ernst needs to know that playing politics and rewarding big donors is not why she was elected.  She needs to actually help Iowans dealing with skyrocketing prescription drug prices.

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