Do you care about waiting times, the likelihood of a safe pregnancy or how long you might live? Than don’t ask yourself whether Wyoming is better served by a single-payer government health care program or a private insurance system. Rather, ask whether our government officials are focused more on controlling costs or on padding their donors’ pockets.
I’m not in favor of Medicare for all. Not because systems like that can’t work, but because it would be disruptive and impossible to implement in the U.S. — not to mention it would never get the 60 Senate votes needed. But the back and forth over whether we write our health insurance check to Blue Cross or the IRS misses the real point.
In Germany, health insurance is compulsory. If you lived there, you’d enjoy some of the shortest wait times in the developed world while receiving top-tier health outcomes. You’d also pay about half as much for health care as you do in the United States. That’s because you’d live in a country where, after prescription drug prices rose by 4% per year, the legislature used its national buying power to negotiate consumer discounts.
That’s a sharp contrast to how American legislators have behaved. Here, despite drug prices rising 100% in a mere six years, Congress — with the support of our entire Wyoming delegation — continues to forbid the Department of Health and Human Services from negotiating prescription drug prices on behalf of Medicare and Medicaid.
These entities are the largest buyers of pharmaceuticals in the world and have massive purchasing power. But while the DHH must jump through hoops to find the cheapest ballpoint pen, when it comes to chemotherapy medication, it is obligated to pay whatever price the manufacturer wants to charge.
Because many private and state insurance programs reimburse at a formula based on Medicare and Medicaid pricing, this anti-competitive policy causes a cascade of inflated prices throughout the system.
Japan has the highest life expectancy in the world and consistently ranks in the top 10 countries for health care quality. Unlike Germany, it hosts over 3,500 private insurance providers, and health insurance is effectively voluntary as there is no penalty for being uninsured.
While Japan and Germany differ in how health care is paid for, they share an equal commitment to keeping costs down for consumers. Every two years the Japanese government negotiates prices on behalf of its citizens. That’s how an MRI costs $98 in Japan versus $1,500 in the U.S.
Our Congress further protects the industry from competition by making it illegal to purchase identical pharmaceuticals outside the country.
I won’t soon forget the mother and father from Worland I met during my 2018 campaign for Wyoming’s U.S. Senate seat. They told me that each year they used all their vacation days to travel to Mexico to buy a year’s worth of drugs for their son’s cancer therapy.
An estimated 19 million Americans risk prosecution each year in order to buy their drugs illegally because, if they don’t, they can’t afford to take their medicine. Congress’s immoral behavior has created a public health emergency. Despite millions of Americans crossing the border to buy medicine, a staggering 29% of us are still unable to afford to take our drugs as prescribed.
As a nation we are getting sicker and risking further health problems because, unlike the governments of other developed nations, our Congress members choose the profits of their donors over the health of their citizens.
Last year Sen. Charles E. Grassley (R-Iowa) and Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Oregon) introduced modest legislation to cap Medicare drug prices at the rate of inflation — a rather small ask given the other protections Congress provides the industry. But Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Kentucky), with the support of our own Sen. John Barrasso (R-Wyoming) — one of only three physicians in the Senate — refused to allow the bill to be voted on.
They recognize that a family struggling to buy medication for their daughter’s epilepsy can hardly afford to also buy a Senator. The same politicians who had no reservations about shielding drug companies from foreign competition, and who continue to forbid the DHH from using its buying power to negotiate pricing, declared Grassley’s bill “anti-competitive.”
No wonder the health care industry donated close to $500 million to Congress in the last election cycle. It may be expensive for a working American to buy insulin in the U.S., but for huge lobbying groups, it’s rather cheap to buy a Senator.