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Sanders writes: "We are beginning to make progress in creating a government that works for all people, and not just the very wealthy. But we still have a very long way to go."

Bernie Sanders. (photo: Mary Altaffer/AP)
Bernie Sanders. (photo: Mary Altaffer/AP)

Big Pharma Doesn't Want Us to Expand Medicare. We Have to Fight Them

By Bernie Sanders, Guardian UK

03 May 21

By lifting the ban on Medicare negotiating prescription drugs prices we can expand benefits and lower the age of eligibility

e are beginning to make progress in creating a government that works for all people, and not just the very wealthy. But we still have a very long way to go.

By now you’ve heard the big headlines about the American Rescue Plan that Joe Biden signed into law in March: the $1,400 direct payments, the massive expansion of the child tax credit, the extension of unemployment benefits and the production and distribution of tens of millions of vaccine doses that are desperately needed if we are going to crush this pandemic.

What you might not have heard is that we have made primary healthcare far more accessible by doubling funding for community health centers and tripling funding to get doctors, dentists and nurses into medically underserved areas. Kids who have been stuck at home for the past year will now be able to do activities this summer because of major new funding for summer and after-school programs.

These are major steps forward.

But in this time of unprecedented crises, it is not enough. Joe Biden knows that, I know that and you know that.

The agenda the president laid out in his speech on Wednesday gives Congress a good road map, but we need to go further if we are going to seriously combat the enormous economic, social, health and environmental crises facing our country.

As chairman of the Senate budget committee, I’ll take an active role in helping to draft much of this new legislation. There are a number of critical areas we will address including our nation’s crumbling infrastructure, the need to combat climate change and provide childcare for every American family. But right now, I wanted to talk to you about one area I will be especially focused on.

It is outrageous that more than 50 years after Medicare was enacted seniors still do not receive basic hearing, vision and dental coverage. Many seniors are unable to read a newspaper because they can’t afford eyeglasses, they can’t talk with their grandchildren because they can’t afford hearing aids and they have trouble eating because they can’t afford dentures.

It is also time to acknowledge that we must lower Medicare eligibility for the millions of older workers who are in desperate need of healthcare.

This pivotal moment in American history is the time for a Democratic president and a Democratic Congress to do what the American people want. We must expand Medicare benefits and lower the age of Medicare eligibility. Using our majority to take this step is not only the right thing to do for the American people – it’s good politics as well.

These steps might seem expensive, and they are. But here is something amazing. We can pay for the entire cost of these additions to Medicare by allowing the program to negotiate the cost of prescription drugs.

As incredible as it sounds the Medicare program is not allowed by law to negotiate with drug companies over the cost of medications seniors purchase. The lobbying power of the big drug companies means they are ripping off the government and charging the American people any price they want. Not only that. Because of the power of the pharmaceutical industry all Americans are forced to pay, by far, the highest prices in the world for prescription drugs. This absurdity must end.

Negotiating drug prices is what every other major country on earth does. The Veterans Administration does it. Only Medicare is prohibited from taking this obvious step.

What we are fighting for now is the very definition of a win-win-win situation. Seniors pay lower prices for prescription drugs and receive hearing, vision and dental care. Millions more Americans become eligible to participate in the Medicare program. And we lower prescription drug costs for all Americans.

It’s almost insane to think that we would have to fight for these commonsense policies that are supported in overwhelming numbers by he American people. But it comes as no surprise that the pharmaceutical industry will use all of their power in Washington DC to try to stop them from taking place. From 1999 to 2018 drug companies spent $4.7bn lobbying the federal government. That is $233m every year. That is in addition to more than $400m in campaign contributions to federal candidates and committees and $900m to state candidate and committees.

The pharmaceutical industry, the most powerful lobby in Washington, believes that their wealth and power can prevent Congress and the president from taking action to expand Medicare and lower prescription drug prices. Well, I disagree. I believe that in the days and weeks ahead, if all of us make our voices heard we can show how powerful the American people can be when we stand together and fight back. We will not allow the greed of the pharmaceutical industry to stand in the way of Americans getting healthcare and reasonably priced prescription drugs.

As a nation we are now beginning to make some real progress in protecting the interests of the working class. Not surprisingly, the Establishment and defenders of the status quo are resisting. But, in this pivotal moment, if we have the courage to educate, organize and go forward, we will win this struggle. At the end of the day a strong grassroots movement of millions of Americans fighting for justice can and will defeat the power of Organized Money. your social media marketing partner
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