September 23, 2016
As her president husband’s point person on health care in the 1990s, Hillary Clinton learned what is needed to make health care affordable for everyone and how hard — but worthwhile — it will be to achieve that outcome.
She knows the issues inside-out, and her current proposals as a presidential candidate reflect her knowledge and commitment.
Excuse me while I mix a bunch of metaphors to describe the challenges ahead. Improving access to affordable health care in our country will require a complex juggling act, fitting together hundreds of puzzle pieces, and compromises from the major players, many of whom are on opposing teams.
The good news is that there are fewer uninsured Americans today than at any other point in our nation’s history. Likewise, people no longer are one illness away from financial disaster because of pre-existing medical conditions or because their age or health problems make them uninsurable.
The bad news is that many Americans say they don’t support President Barack Obama’s marquee Affordable Care Act, commonly called Obamacare, or are skeptical of it because co-payments and deductibles are increasing.
Fortunately, Clinton’s proposals to improve the situation are achievable — if Congress wants to improve access to health care instead of just complain about it.
Here are a few of her proposals:
— Reducing the price of prescription drugs. Nearly everyone agrees this is an important goal, but Big Pharma’s army of lobbyists have made it a tough one to achieve. Clinton has proposed several solutions, and my favorite is the simplest: scrutinizing prescription drug ads before they are allowed to bombard consumers. The U.S. is one of only two countries that allow these ads to be directed at consumers rather than just toward doctors. Also, as if watching the ads isn’t annoying enough, pharmaceutical companies deduct the cost of the ads from their taxes but still count advertising as a research-and-development expenditure. Yes, really, advertising costs are included in the “costs of developing new drugs.” The misleading ads encourage inappropriate and expensive prescriptions that cost us billions of dollars and ought to be more heavily scrutinized, as Clinton has proposed.
— You’ve probably never heard of Federally Qualified Health Centers, but 25 million Americans get their care from these clinics every year. Clinton proposes doubling that investment to provide care for more Americans. Legislators like to get credit for bringing home federal money and ought to go along with this idea.
— Reducing the backlog of generic drug applications. Generic drugs are generally less expensive and, in turn, force brand-name manufacturers to lower their prices. Clinton proposes that generic drug manufacturers help pay for reducing the backlog, since the move will benefit their bottom lines.
— Expanding Medicare to make it available — not required — for people 55 and older, instead of only people 65 and older. The cost of Medicare, which is not free, is different for every person and based on income. Americans generally love Medicare, and many would benefit, so if Congress is functioning, this could become law.
— Expanding Medicaid in every state. Medicaid provides health care to the poorest Americans in all 50 states, but 19 states have refused federal funds to expand it. The number of states participating in this expansion has slowly increased as it has become obvious that red states, such as Kentucky, have benefited the most. Expanding coverage in all 50 states will be tough, but Clinton’s plan to use incentives should nudge things in that direction.
These are just a few ways Clinton proposes to make health care more affordable. It won’t be easy, but as a senator, Clinton was able to work with both parties to get legislation passed.
One big plus is that several of her proposals reflect her awareness that the Food and Drug Administration could help reduce the cost of our health care instead of increasing it. Just this week, the agency tentatively approved a drug that will cost $300,000 a year despite there being little evidence that it works. In improving the nation’s health care environment, preventing skyrocketing costs of unproven treatments is a great place to start.
Diana Zuckerman is president of the National Center for Health Research. She received a doctorate in psychology from Ohio State University and was a post-doctoral fellow in epidemiology and public health at Yale Medical School. Readers may write her at NCHR, 1201 Connecticut Ave. NW, Suite 1100, Washington, DC 20036. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency LLC.