Category Archives: Healthcare

Texas v. Azar: One Court Ruling Could Affect the Lives of More Than 20 Million People

Texas v. Azar: One Court Ruling Could Affect the Lives of More Than 20 Million People

Anne Marie Bonds
October 9, 2019

Passed in 2010, the Affordable Care Act (ACA) was meant to decrease the number of uninsured people in the United States. Too many people simply hoped to stay healthy every day, avoiding hospitals and ambulances because they couldn’t afford thousands of dollars in medical bills. The ACA has made insurance accessible for over 20 million people since 2010 and has helped even more by making preventative care, such as annual physicals, free. It also prohibits all insurance companies from discriminating against people with pre-existing conditions, meaning people who are already sick cannot be rejected because of their illness.

For the last seven years, Republicans attempted to repeal the ACA numerous times through the legislative, executive, and judicial branches. In 2017, the repeal of the ACA came down to one vote in the Senate. Senator John McCain’s historic thumbs down vote effectively ended the Republican movement to repeal the ACA through legislation.

Now, the ACA is at risk again. This time, it is back in the courts. In February 2018, twenty Republican-led states filed a lawsuit, Texas v. Azar, to invalidate the ACA. Now, the lawsuit has made its way up to the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals, which is only one step down from the Supreme Court. The 5th Circuit is expected to make a ruling sometime this week, a decision that could potentially shake the nation’s entire health system.

If you know me you would probably ask: Anne Marie, why do you care so much about the Affordable Care Act? You’re an upper-middle class, 22-year-old white girl from Alabama. How has the ACA affected your life in any way? Well, the short answer is that it hasn’t. Not directly. I’ve been covered under my parents’ employer health insurance since I was young, and I’ve had the privilege of never needing to worry about how my medical bills were going to be paid. In fact, I never really cared about Obamacare until November of 2013, when I realized how the ACA impacts every single person in our nation.

In November of 2013, my father was diagnosed with ALS, or Lou Gehrig’s disease. It’s a terminal, degenerative disease that slowly atrophies muscle over time. Those with an ALS diagnosis have 3-5 years left to live, but for many, those years are not pleasant. Before my Dad got sick, he worked in an aluminum plant, and when he was diagnosed, he had to quit his job because he couldn’t lift anything anymore. Because of this, he lost his employer’s health insurance coverage, as many with ALS do.

Without the ACA, my father would not have been able to find private insurance, as insurance companies could have easily denied him due to his pre-existing condition. Thousands of ALS patients are dependent on this non-discrimination clause within the ACA to receive care that can prolong their lives for months. Without the ACA, ALS patients are left without a safety net and no way to pay for their care. Other people with chronic conditions, such as multiple sclerosis, fibromyalgia, and heart disease, depend on the ACA to protect them from private insurance discrimination. Although 20 million people directly depend on the ACA to provide them with quality, affordable health insurance, an innumerable amount of people in the U.S. depend on the ACA indirectly by prohibiting pre-existing condition discrimination and making preventative care services free.

Depending on how the 5th Circuit rules, there’s a good chance we’ll see this case in the Supreme Court next year. Although conservatives would have you believe the ACA only helps the uninsured, in reality, the positive effects of the ACA extend to almost every person in the nation. The ACA has faced a bevy of criticism for nine years, even though it is a vital aspect of our nation’s health care system. It is time to stop our partisan arguing over the ACA. It is time to stop making the health of our people an ideological argument. It is time to support the ACA and work to stop those who continue attempting to repeal and destroy it.

Listen: Interfaith Partners Oppose the Trump Administration’s Public Charge Rule

Listen: Interfaith Partners Oppose the Trump Administration’s Public Charge Rule

Lee Morrow
August 15, 2019

This week the Trump administration announced that their proposed changes to our nation’s public charge rule are scheduled go into effect in October. NETWORK and our fellow faith-based advocacy partners were compelled to respond. Representatives from MAZON: A Jewish Response to Hunger, Church World Service, the National Council of Jewish Women, and Faith in Public Life joined Sister Simone Campbell to denounce this harmful change to our nation’s immigration policy.

“The Trump Administration is making history in all the wrong ways,” said Liza Lieberman, Director of Public Policy for MAZON: A Jewish Response to Hunger. “For the first time, U.S. immigration officials will be instructed to consider non-cash basic needs benefits (including vital food assistance from the SNAP) in considering immigrants’ qualifications for admission or adjustment of status. This is completely unacceptable—nobody should be forced to choose between accepting government assistance and living in safety in the country they call home. This policy is an affront to our Jewish values of compassion and nondiscrimination, as well as our deeply-held belief that everyone deserves access to the resources they need to feed themselves and their families.”

Faith William, Senior Manager of Government Affairs at the National Council of Jewish Women added, “Jews are an immigrant and refugee people – it’s part of our cultural DNA. We recognize that the rule, reportedly Stephen Miller’s “singular obsession,” is part of a larger effort by this administration to criminalize and marginalize people of color, including immigrants of color. The National Council of Jewish Women will not cease in its fight against this and other harmful anti-immigrant, anti-asylee, and anti-refugee policies.”

Sister Simone Campbell stated “This public charge rule is a full scale assault on hard working low wage workers…  These essential programs that they are legally entitled to are really the keys to being able to support their families and thrive here in the United States. President Trump is literally taking food off the tables of our neighbors.”

Share on Social Media:

National faith-based organizations condemn Trump Administration’s draconian #publiccharge rule. This is not who we are. Listen here: https://networklobby.org/20190815publiccharge/ @NETWORKLobby @MAZONusa @global_cws @NCJW @FaithPublicLife

.@DHSgov issued a final rule to radically expand the criteria for who could be considered a #publiccharge under U.S. immigration law. This will separate families & impact millions of people including U.S. citizens. @NETWORKLobby @MAZONusa @CWS_global @NCJW @FaithPublicLife Our interfaith response: https://networklobby.org/20190815publiccharge/

Trump’s #publiccharge rule change is sinful. Learn more about how faith-based organizations are fighting back: https://networklobby.org/20190815publiccharge/. @NETWORKLobby @MAZONusa @CWS_global @NCJW @FaithPublicLife

We’re proud to stand with our interfaith partners in opposition to Trump’s vindictive #publiccharge policy. This is the latest in a string of attacks on immigrant families, and it goes against our most basic values. #ProtectImmigrantFamilies https://networklobby.org/20190815publiccharge/ @NETWORKLobby @MAZONusa @global_cws @NCJW @FaithPublicLife

Health Care Update: The Lower Health Care Costs Act

Health Care Update: The Lower Health Care Costs Act

Siena Ruggeri
August 7, 2019

With 2020 looming, both chambers of Congress are on a mission to show voters they’re serious about reforming health care and lowering costs. The Lowering Health Care Costs Act represents the largest effort on health care in the Senate this session. The Health, Employment, Labor, and Pensions Committee has collected a wide variety of health care proposals and assembled them into one sweeping piece of legislation. The legislation is a package of bills containing 54 bipartisan proposals from 36 Democrats and 29 Republicans. The package has a huge scope—it includes provisions regarding surprise billing, drug pricing, extensions of existing health care programs, health equity research, raising the tobacco age, and cybersecurity with medical records. All of these issues relate to our Mend the Gaps health care agenda. The bipartisan nature of these bills means that there is potential for this legislation to make it through the Senate and onto the House. The bill is divided into five sections.

Section I: Ending Surprise Billing

  • Requires that emergency health care charges to a patient are counted toward the patient’s in-network deductible
  • Patients are held harmless from surprise medical bills. Patients are only required to pay the in-network cost-sharing amount for out-of-network care, including emergency services
  • Patients must be given notice of out-of-network care

NETWORK Analysis: The legislation moves in the right direction on surprise billing by ensuring patients are not victimized in a billing debate between providers and insurers. It’s important to note that an individual has to have insurance to access these protections. For the millions of uninsured and underinsured in our country, there’s still not a safety net for these exploitative billing practices.

Section II: Proposals to Lower Drug Costs

  • Helping companies speed drug development through drug database
  • Increases transparency for patent data on biologic products
  • Prevents the abuse of citizen’s petitions to delay the production of low-cost biosimilars
  • Clarifies that drugs like insulin will not be granted market exclusivity past 2020
  • Eliminates the first come first served drug pricing loophole that slows the production of lower-cost drugs
  • Creates an FDA website to educate consumers on biologic products
  • Eliminates the market exclusivity loophole created by patent evergreening
  • Modernizes labeling of generic drugs
  • Eliminate first come first served drug pricing loophole
  • Requires drug manufacturers to submit public justifications of price increases of over 10% in one year

NETWORK Analysis: These proposals are the necessary first step to lowering drug prices. While the legislation implements transparency measures and reforms the pharmaceutical industry’s abuse of the patent system, there still needs to be action taken on unwarranted price spikes. Drug companies are still able to gouge prices as they wish, with no accountability. This also does not address the fact that the government is not allowed to negotiate drug prices on behalf of Medicare Part D patients. Without these checks on the drug industry’s power, drug prices will stay high. We encourage the Senate to take up the PRICED Act, the Doggett bill, and the SPIKE Act to address these root causes.

Section III: Transparency Measures

  • Healthcare providers have to provide summary of services to patients
  • Doctors/insurers must provide price quotes to patients
  • Ban anti-competitive terms in hospital contracts
  • Designation of a nongovernmental, nonprofit transparency organization to lower Americans’ health care costs
  • Requires health plans to have up-to-date directories of their in-network providers
  • Bans pharmacy benefit managers for charging more for drugs than they paid for drugs (spread pricing)
  • Requires a GAO study on profit-sharing relationships between hospitals, contract management groups, and physician and ancillary services, and the Federal oversight of such relationships

NETWORK Analysis: These transparency measures are a good first step to shedding light on the exploitative practices of many actors the health care industry. While these reforms are beneficial for those with strong health insurance plans, more attention needs to be devoted to expanding Medicaid and affordable health coverage to those who need it most. Even if providers are transparent about costs, those costs are often unattainable for low-income people.

Section IV: Public Health

  • Reauthorizes community health centers for five years with flat funding
  • Reauthorizes the Teaching Health Centers Graduate Medical Education Programs and the National Health Service Corps for five years
  • Reauthorizes the Special Diabetes Program for Type 1 Diabetes and the Special Diabetes Program for Indians for five years
  • Provides competitive grants for maternal mortality prevention
  • Provides competitive grants for perinatal quality collaboratives
  • Commissions a study on trainings to reduce and prevent discrimination in health care
  • Establishes a grant program for the training of health care professionals working in prenatal care, labor care, birthing, and postpartum care to reduce and prevent discrimination, including training related to implicit biases
  • Raises minimum age for tobacco products to 21
  • Provides grants to improve technology for medically underserved areas

NETWORK Analysis: We applaud the extension of these crucial human needs programs for a more sustainable timeline of five years. This prevents these programs from facing lapses in funding due to slow congressional action. While the first step is to reauthorize programs like CHCs, these facilities have grown significantly in the past 10 years and are in need of more funding. We encourage the Senate to pass the CHIME Act, which would increase mandatory funding for CHCs over the next five years. These public health programs are crucial to the social safety net and serve communities that would otherwise go without preventative health care services.

We applaud the inclusion of funding for grants and trainings on issues of health equity. In order to address how our health system reinforces racism and other oppressions, we have to support further research and provide resources to fight unconscious bias in the medical profession. Congress needs to continue taking action for health equity at the federal level.

Section V: Improving Health Information

  • Requires health insurers to make claims data, in-network practitioners, and expected out-of-pocket costs available to patients
  • Incentivizes health care entities to adopt strong cybersecurity practices
  • Gives patients better access to their medical records

NETWORK Analysis: Our health information is highly vulnerable to cyber-attacks. Steps must be taken to ensure medical records remain private.

Conclusion

This legislation shows that there is momentum in the Senate to address the causes of high health care costs. While we wish there was a more robust effort to address ACA sabotage, access to affordable coverage, and the root causes of high prescription drug prices, this package of legislation offers some hope that Congress will make some progress on addressing health care issues this session. We hope to see this legislation paired with the strong drug pricing reforms detailed in the Senate Finance Committee’s Prescription Drug Pricing Reduction Act and quickly brought to the Senate floor. After the Senate returns after August recess, we expect to see this legislative package to be voted on in the fall

The Positive Impact of Community Health Centers

The Positive Impact of Community Health Centers

Afton Neufield
August 5, 2019

In a world where healthcare topics are becoming increasingly divisive, there is still one healthcare delivery model that secures hearty bipartisan support: Community Health Centers.

Community Health Centers (CHCs) were formed over 50 years ago as the brainchild of Dr. H. Jack Geiger, a young physician with a heart for addressing gaps in healthcare by providing affordable and accessible primary healthcare. His innovative care model showed that improving the health of the most vulnerable populations not only improved the lives of those treated at the health center, but the lives of their families, surrounding communities, and beyond.

Today, CHCs are the primary healthcare providers for over 28 million patients across the United States. Dr. Geiger’s mission continues as CHCs continue to bridge gaps to care by reducing (and in some cases eliminating) the barriers of cost, transportation, and language translation. CHCs still provide primary care, but they have branched out to also deliver preventative and innovative programs to communities across the country.

CHCs enjoy bipartisan support for good reason. They improve community members’ quality of life, while at the same time saving our country billions each year in healthcare costs by providing preventative care and reducing unnecessary emergency room visits. CHCs also create jobs in the communities they serve, provide wraparound services, and give people a place to access healthcare when they are uninsured.

For the faith community, CHCs are a tangible representation of the call of scripture to care for the vulnerable in our communities. In Jeremiah 22:16 the Lord describing a faithful follower says “He defended the cause of the poor and needy… Is that not what it means to know me?”

CHCs improve the lives and health of those on the margins of our society, while also helping our entire healthcare system run more efficiently. This is the beauty of following our call to defend the cause of our neighbor, that when their health improves, ours does too.

What does the future look like for CHCs? It depends.

Currently, NETWORK and our advocacy partners are being called once again to support these health centers. Right now, without Congressional action, $4.0 billion of funding for the Community Health Centers Fund (CHCF) will expire on September 30, 2019. With healthcare demands increasing, the promise of continued existence without adequate funding is not

enough. We need the leaders in Congress to act to ensure that funding for CHCs will continue and increase to meet demand and address health disparities in our communities.

Feeling called to join our mission to advocate for funding for CHCs? Check out our NETWORK leave behind on CHC funding here. Email us at info@networklobby.org to take action.

____________________________________________________________________________________

Afton Neufeld is a NETWORK volunteer currently obtaining her Masters in Social Work at University of Nevada, Reno. Her social justice heroes include Jesus, Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., and Catholic Sisters.

Freedom for Some, But Not for All

Freedom for Some, But Not for All

Mary Cunningham
July 4, 2018

July 4, 1776: the day the Declaration of Independence was adopted. Since then, each July 4th we celebrate our nation’s freedom from an overbearing colonial rule and our fervent patriotism. We dress in red, white, and blue, enjoy cookouts with neighbors in our backyards, and watch from picnic blankets as fireworks erupt across the sky. Yes, the day has become commercialized, but the words of the Declaration of Independence remain as pertinent in our current political climate as they were when they were first written.

The document written by our founding fathers clearly declares our commitment to “unalienable Rights” defined as “Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” It even goes so far as to say that when a government fails to protect these rights, it is the duty of the people to alter or abolish it, and that a leader whose actions resemble a tyrant cannot be trusted to rule and uphold the freedom of the people. Thus, we see the intricate and fragile relationship that exists between the government and the governed.

Take a snapshot of the United States at this exact moment, and you will realize that we have do not have good governance, and that many in our country still lack the rights which the Declaration of Independence deems “inalienable.” In his “I Have a Dream” speech, Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. talked about what was meant by this term: “This note was a promise that all men, yes, black men as well as white men, would be guaranteed the unalienable rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. It is obvious today that America has defaulted on this promissory note insofar as her citizens of color are concerned.”

The default on the promise of “inalienable rights” was evident during Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s time and it is still evident today for people of color and all on the economic margins seeking to live freely in the United States. We see this in the recent decision by the Supreme Court to uphold the Trump administration’s travel ban, Congress’s failure to pass a Dream Act to protect DACA recipients, and state and federal attempts to impose work requirements on human needs programs that help our nation’s most vulnerable families and individuals. How do these political decisions enhance the life, liberty, or happiness of the people they impact? They don’t.

On a more personal level, we have begun to fail one another, as violent discrimination and exclusion continue to reign. Our nation has endured countless acts of police brutality and racial profiling. I am astonished on a daily basis by the attacks on communities of color, like the recent shooting of high school student Antwon Rose. If we set a standard that “all men are created equal,” shouldn’t we hold all people to that standard, regardless of race, gender, or religious beliefs?

A few days ago, one of my coworkers sent around a video from the show, Dear White People, to our staff. In the video, the character Reggie reads a poem he wrote for an open mic night—his rendition of the Declaration of Independence:

We hold these truths to be self-evident
that all men are created equal
that they are endowed by their creator
with certain inalienable rights
Among these life, liberty and
the pursuit of happiness
unless you’re loud and black
and possess an opinion
then all you get is a bullet
A bullet that held me at bay
A bullet that can puncture my skin
take all my dreams away
A bullet that can silence
the words I speak to my mother
just because I’m
other
A bullet – held me captive
gun in my face
your hate misplaced
White skin, light skin
but for me not the
right skin
Judging me with no crime committed
reckless trigger finger itching to
prove your worth by disproving mine
My life in your hands
My life on the line
Fred Hampton
Tamir Rice. Rekia Boyd
Reggie Green
Spared by a piece of paper
a student ID
that you had to see before
you could identify
me
and set me supposedly
free
Life
liberty
and the pursuit of happiness
for some of us maybe
There’s nothing
self-evident
about it

The Declaration of Independence pronounced the individual rights that cannot be taken away. In 1776, that only included white, male landowners. After much hard work and sacrifice, we know that all people deserve these same unalienable rights. But, we see that as a nation today, we fall despairingly short of this. The words of the Declaration of Independence should not be an ideal or something that we aspire to. They must be the law of the land, the fabric which knits our country together. For if we cannot claim our freedom, what do we have left?

 

House Healthcare Package Seeks to Lower Drug Prices and Stabilize the Marketplace

House Healthcare Package Seeks to Lower Drug Prices and Stabilize the Marketplace

Siena Ruggeri
May 13, 2019

The House has released a newly-combined package of healthcare bills that will have a positive effect on both prescription drug prices and the affordability and accessibility of health insurance coverage. NETWORK supports all seven bills included in the Strengthening Health Care and Lowering Prescription Drug Costs Act (H.R. 987). The package contains three bills concerning drug pricing and four bills addressing the stabilization of the healthcare marketplace created by the Affordable Care Act. The prescription drug pricing legislation would mainly increase generic competition, which can help make affordable drugs available more quickly to consumers. The four bills in the package designed to strengthen the Affordable Care Act would increase support for consumers and state marketplaces and ensure health care plans offer full coverage.

Prescription Drug Bills

The prescription drug pricing bills included in the package are:

  • The Protecting Consumer Access to Generic Drugs Act of 2019 (H.R. 1499)
  • The BLOCKING Act of 2019 (H.R. 938)
  • The CREATES Act of 2019 (H.R.965)

The Protecting Consumer Access to Generic Drugs Act of 2019 would make it illegal for brand-name and generic drug manufacturers to enter into agreements in which the brand-name drug manufacturer pays the generic manufacturer to keep a generic equivalent off the market. These agreements are known as “pay-for-delay” deals.

Two other two drug pricing bills are bipartisan proposals. The BLOCKING (Bringing Low-cost Options and Competition while Keeping Incentives for New Generics) Act of 2019 discourages an exclusivity period for generic applicants wanting to produce a drug that is no longer patented.

The CREATES (Creating and Restoring Equal Access to Equivalent Samples) Act of 2019 would help generic drug manufacturers quickly acquire the samples they need to start making an affordable generic version of a drug. Currently, brand-name drug companies can game safety protocols to delay generic entry into the market. If enacted, this legislation would help generic competition get on the market faster and ensure consumers have affordable options for the prescriptions they need.

ACA Stabilization Bills

The bills concerning the Affordable Care Act in the package are:

  • The MORE Health Education Act (R.987),
  • R. 1010, Limiting the availability of “junk plans”
  • The State Allowance for a Variety of Exchanges (SAVE) Act (R.1386)
  • The ENROLL Act of 2019 (R.1386)

The Marketing and Outreach Restoration to Empower (MORE) Health Education Act would provide funding for outreach to underserved communities to help community members enroll in healthcare plans on the ACA marketplace. This funding has been slashed by the Trump administration in the past couple of years, making it harder for consumers to stay informed about the health insurance options.

H.R.1010 reverses the Trump Administration expansion of short-term, limited-duration insurance plans. These “junk plans” do not cover maternal or mental health, can discriminate based on age, gender, and preexisting conditions, and leave users without care in a medical crisis.

The SAVE Act provides federal funding to help states set up state-based health insurance marketplaces and expand healthcare to more people in their states.

The ENROLL Act would provide $100 million in funding to the Federally-Facilitated Marketplace (FFM) navigator program. Navigator programs are an essential part of the ACA’s success and have faced devastating cuts for the past couple of years.

Restoring the Affordable Care Act

These fixes would restore important provisions in the original Affordable Care Act that ensured low-income and medically underserved communities had access to information and support to decide between their health insurance options. All healthcare coverage must be comprehensive and reliable in an emergency—short-term insurance is no substitute. In order to provide accessible, affordable, and high-quality healthcare, we must ensure these ACA provisions stay in place to protect consumers and support them in their healthcare choices.

NETWORK Calls for Affordable Drugs in NAFTA 2.0 Negotiations

Congress Must Demand the Administration Remove New Pharmaceutical Monopoly Protections from the Text of NAFTA 2.0

Laura Peralta-Schulte
May 10, 2019

Laura Peralta-Schulte, NETWORK Senior Government Relations Advocate, participated in a briefing on Capitol Hill to raise concern for policies included in the Trump administration’s ongoing trade negotiations. Read Laura’s speech below:

Good afternoon. My name is Laura Peralta-Schulte and I am a Senior Government Affairs Advocate for NETWORK Lobby for Catholic Social Justice. NETWORK is a Catholic leader for justice founded over forty years ago by Catholic Sisters and open to all who share our passion. Some of you may know us by our campaign, “Nuns on the Bus.”

People of faith across traditions believe every life has dignity and is sacred. NETWORK Lobby grounds our work in the principles of Catholic Social Justice, which hold that access to healthcare is human right because it is necessary for well-being. The Catholic Sisters and activists of NETWORK reject the notion that only the wealthy should have access to care. Our most sacred texts urge us to “Learn to do good. Seek justice. Help the oppressed.” (Isaiah 1:17)

We acknowledge the genius of scientists who create cures for disease and the role industry plays in our health system. Business is a noble calling if performed in the service of the common good.

Provisions in the current NAFTA 2.0 text, however, are not pro-patient and do not promote the common good. Instead, they prioritize profits over patients.

Powerful companies are attempting to use complicated trade negotiations to lock in current U.S. drug policies and prevent Congress from taking reasonable steps to curb drug price gouging. The new agreement creates new roadblocks for generic companies to compete with brand name products after a patent has expired. It also attempt to export our bad policies to our neighbors.

This is the wrong way forward.

The provisions of the World Trade Organization’s Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS), currently in effect in all NAFTA countries, should continue to be the standard in the new NAFTA agreement. TRIPS calls for respect of intellectual property rights, including those for medicines. It also recognizes each nation’s right to take necessary steps to ensure that medicines are available to all of their residents.

We urge your offices to insist that the Administration change the text of the current Agreement to get rid of the following anti-competitive, anti-patient provisions:

First: The current text of NAFTA 2.0 locks in a minimum 10-year marketing exclusivity period for new biologic medicines. (Article 20.49.1).  These medicines include many new treatments for cancer, heart disease and even vaccines.

This provision would lock in current rules and stop from Congress from being able to make change.

The faith community has particular concern about how this rule would affect Mexico, where access to medicines for many patients is already simply out of reach. According to the OECD data, seven of every 10 Mexicans live in or near poverty.1 If unchanged, even fewer people will be able to afford needed medicines causing preventable suffering and death.

Second: NAFTA 2.0 expands what drugs get special biologic protections and doubles exclusivity for some medicines. This is in Article 20.49.2. Congress expressly excluded certain drugs from additional monopoly protections. This provision, and others, must be changed to conform to U.S. law.

Third: NAFTA 2.0 extends monopoly protection through “evergreening” provisions. It requires nations to extend patents through minor changes without any increased therapeutic benefits for patients well beyond the original 20-year patent. This is in Article 20.36.2.

Lastly, the agreement requires nations to provide patent term extensions or grant longer protections for perceived administrative delays. This is Article 20.44. This provision would block competition from the marketplace and limit Congress from making changes.

No matter what your position is on trade policy, we believe Congress should establish U.S. healthcare policy, not trade negotiators and industry lobbyists.

We believe each nation has a right to ensure residents have access to life-saving treatments.

At the beginning of his pontificate, Pope Francis wrote a letter were he sharply condemned what he called an “an economy of exclusion.” He wrote, “Just as the commandment “Thou shalt not kill” sets a clear limit in order to safeguard the value of human life, today we also have to say, “thou shalt not” to an economy of exclusion and inequality. Such an economy kills. “

Today, high prescription drug prices force people to choose whether to take the medicines they need, or, instead, to ration or simply go without needed treatments in order to be able pay for other necessities like food and shelter. This is wrong.

Congress must say no to an economy of exclusion and insist the Administration remove these provisions from the current text.

 

View NETWORK’s Principles of Drug Pricing.

 


  1. https://www.oecd.org/fr/mexique/global-and-mexico-economic-outlook-2018.htm 

Exorbitant Drug Pricing: A Moral Issue

Exorbitant Drug Pricing: A Moral Issue

Siena Ruggeri
March 5, 2019

If the popular immunosuppressant Humira was a standalone company, it would be twice as big as the Hilton hotel chain and its sales would rival Southwest Airlines and Visa. How is this one drug so profitable? After rebates, the average price of the drug is $3,000 a month. The company that sells it, AbbVie, has made 115 billion in profit off the drug since 2010, and more than half of those profits come from the U.S.

Insulin, a drug whose patent was created almost a century ago, is skyrocketing in price. Diabetics around the country are forced to choose between rationing life-saving medication, falling behind on rent and car payments, or going without food. The original developers of these drugs wanted their scientific innovation to serve the public good—so what gives?

In the status quo, there’s no incentive to sell drugs at a reasonable rate. Pharmaceutical companies can claim that in order to recoup the costs of research and development, they must have exclusive access to the market for their specific drug. While they have market exclusivity, the drug company is then able to gouge the price of their drug. There is no competitor to incentivize lower costs. There’s also no government scrutiny as to why the price is what it is. We don’t know why certain pharmaceutical drugs are priced the way they are. Therefore, we have no control if those prices start rising exponentially, and patients have no way of affording the only drug available to cure their condition.

What is one supposed to do if they have breast cancer, Hepatitis C, or multiple sclerosis and can’t afford their drugs? We use public dollars to fund research to prevent this exact problem. Public research money contributed to the 210 new drugs approved from 2010-2016, to the tune of $100 billion dollars. Unfortunately, drug makers have taken advantage of the public’s investment in research to strengthen their bottom line.

 

These practices are an insidious betrayal of public trust and morally wrong. In the richest country in the world, people lose their lives because they can’t afford their medicine. It’s also peculiar that in a so-called free market, we allow monopolists to fully control markets without consequence. The pharmaceutical industry has gamed every rule set in place for them. It is past time for them to face the consequences for the system they have engineered.

Many members of Congress shy away from drug pricing reforms, citing its complicated nature. Others believe the current injustices are based off a few bad actors, not a whole industry that puts profit over human lives. We can’t just point to the most shocking examples of price gouging that make headlines—we have to examine the system that encouraged drug companies to price hike in the first place.

For far too long, the pharmaceutical industry has profited off a public too intimidated to scrutinize their business practices. By directing our attention to examples like “pharma bro” Martin Shkreli, the industry is absolved of any accountability for how they price drugs. This isn’t a case of a few bad actors. This is a system that thrives on taking advantage of the vulnerability and desperation of patients in need of life-saving drugs.

The details of drug pricing reform are complex, but don’t let the pharmaceutical industry bamboozle us into thinking reform is unattainable. To give just one example, every other country in the world allows price negotiations. In the United States, the Department of Veteran’s Affairs negotiates drug prices for their patients. When put together, the proposals coming out of Congress are reasonable reforms. They allow Medicare to use its bargaining power to negotiate prices for its patients, penalize drug corporations that spike the price of a drug without justification, and prohibit abusive tactics used to delay a drug going generic.

There is bipartisan support for doing something about the cost of prescription drugs. This is not an issue we can put off. Every day we refuse to engage and take action, another person risks their life to go without medicine they need to survive. A new poll reveals that 3 out of 10 adults report not taking their medicines as prescribed at some point in the past year because of the cost. Diabetics are risking their lives and rationing their insulin—in fact, 1 out of 4 diabetics admit to doing so.

During our 2018 Nuns on the Bus Tour, we encountered the deadly consequences of this issue. In Savannah, we heard the story of Niema Ross, a young working mother of three who had died that weekend because she couldn’t afford the inhaler she needed to breathe. Niema’s final post on Facebook was a photo of her empty inhaler captioned with a message asking if anyone had access to more. The community tried to raise money for her medication, but it came too late. Niema was never able to get her inhaler, and now her three children will grow up without a mother.

The drug industry’s success in putting profit over people over profit is perhaps one of the most blatant moral issues of our time, and Congress has the power to do something about it. Let’s remind our representatives that now is the time to be morally courageous and end the absurdity that is our prescription drug industry.

 

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Graphic courtesy of Voices for Affordable Health

NETWORK Advocates for Legislation to Lower Drug Prices

NETWORK Advocates for Legislation to Lower Drug Prices

Siena Ruggeri
February 13, 2019

Last week NETWORK sent the following letter to all members of the House of Representatives urging them to support a bill introduced by Rep. Lloyd Doggett that would require pharmaceutical companies to negotiate prices with Medicare Part D. The bill now has over 100 cosponsors and is being evaluated in the House Ways and Means Committee Subcommittee on Health.

In the State of the Union, President Trump voiced his support for Congressional legislation to lower prescription drug prices, saying: “It is unacceptable that Americans pay vastly more than people in other countries for the exact same drugs… This is wrong, this is unfair, and together we will stop it.”  Rep. Doggett’s Medicare Negotiation and Competitive Licensing Act is just the start of the House’s legislative action on drug pricing. NETWORK will evaluate additional legislation and continue advocating for policies that mend the gaps in access to healthcare.

Read the letter below or as a PDF here.


Dear Representative,

NETWORK Lobby for Catholic Social Justice urges members of Congress to become original cosponsors of the Medicare Negotiation and Competitive Licensing Act today.

It is morally reprehensible that 1 in 4 Americans have difficulty paying for their prescriptions. Congress must take specific steps to remedy this wrong.

Taking action to lower drug prices is the top domestic policy priority of Democrats and Republicans, and achieving lower prices for Medicare Part D through direct government negotiation with drug manufacturers is both popular and effective. This policy has support from more than 9-in-10 Americans across the political spectrum. The midterm election was clear—voters expect practical solutions that lower unreasonably high prescription drug prices.

The Medicare Negotiation and Competitive Licensing Act is a common-sense reform that would allow Medicare to negotiate reasonable and affordable drug prices for seniors. By including a fallback to negotiations of competitive licensing when pharmaceutical companies fail to offer an appropriate price, seniors are protected from unfair prices, and Medicare patients will have continued access to the medication they need.

Healthcare is a fundamental social good and essential human right. Inspired by Catholic Social Justice, we seek health care that is high-quality, accessible, affordable, and equitable. We know that unaffordable prescription drugs keep care out-of-reach for far too many people. Congress must take this concrete step to lower drug prices for patients to ensure no one has to go without their medication due to cost.

We urge you to cosponsor this important legislation.

Sincerely,

Sister Simone Campbell
Executive Director
NETWORK Lobby for Catholic Social Justice

Presidential Failures to Mend the Gaps

Presidential Failures to Mend the Gaps

Colleen Ross
February 8, 2019

Over the course of 2018, the Trump administration set numerous policies into motion that are sure to harm vulnerable communities and exacerbate the gaps in our society. Our spirit-filled network took action to denounce the harmful actions taken by the Trump administration and prevent them from going into effect. By writing and submitting comments on proposed rules in the federal register, organizing and attending protests, and raising awareness of these issues, you acted in solidarity with the individuals and families impacted by these unjust decisions.

Healthcare

In January 2018, the Trump administration announced that the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid (CMS) would begin approving states’ requests to impose burdensome Medicaid Work Requirements. Since then, work requirements have been approved in five states, and are pending in ten more states. These work requirements target already vulnerable low-income adults, many of whom are already working or doing their best to secure steady work that pays sufficient wages.

Nutrition

The Agriculture Department released a proposed rule to enforce stricter SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) Work Requirements right at the end 2018. This happened just after Congress had finally reached agreement after months of bipartisan negotiations, resulting in a majority of Congress voting to not include these restrictive work requirements in the Farm Bill. This unilateral action from the administration is clear rejection of Congress’s hard-won, bipartisan agreement.

Census

President Trump’s Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross announced they would be adding a Citizenship Question to the 2020 Census just as it nears the final stages of preparation. The addition of a citizenship question is likely to further depress Census responses from communities of color (which are already undercounted), due to fear of immigration enforcement in the current climate. Additionally, concerning information about persuasion from the White House and undisclosed communication with the Department of Justice encouraging Secretary Ross to add the citizenship question, has become public.

Immigration

In September, the Trump administration released a proposed regulation that the advocacy community refers to as the Flores Rule. This new regulation would dismantle the current “Flores” standards, now allowing the indefinite detention of immigrant children and families, including asylum seekers. In addition to being morally reprehensible, this proposal rejects proven alternatives to mass detention, which are more humane and effective. This proposed rule would allow the federal government to set their own standards for holding families and children in detention and undermine independent oversight of conditions; it also reduces vulnerable families’ access to due process and humanitarian protections.

The Trump administration’s proposed “Public Charge” Rule, published in October, would make it more difficult for immigrants to apply for and receive legal immigration status in the United States. This proposed rule seeks to drastically redefine what it means to be a “public charge” in the immigration system. This would increase the probability that legal immigration applications would be denied based on factors such as age, health, family status, financial status, education, skills, and employment history and would hurt and potentially separate families. Even the threat of this rule is already causing parents to choose between needed public assistance to keep their families housed, fed, and healthy or making their family vulnerable to separation.

Throughout the year, the Trump administration has threatened immigrants with legal status through two programs. Temporary Protected Status (TPS) is a legal immigration status for nationals of a country experiencing ongoing armed conflict, environmental disaster, or another extraordinary and temporary condition. Deferred Enforced Departure (DED) allows foreign nationals to be protected from deportation and have the opportunity to work. Currently, the Trump administration is in the process of ending protections for TPS or DED holders from 11 countries. Many of these TPS/DED holders have been here for more than 20 years, have families in the United States, and would continue to face conflict or other difficult conditions in their home countries.

Judicial

The Senate approved 66 of President Trump’s Judicial Appointments in 2018, including Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh. This is a significant number of appointments and these confirmations will have a strong impact on the makeup of our judicial system.


This story originally appeared in the January 2019 issue of Connection Magazine. Read the full issue here.