Leading on Health Care
Fighting the Opioid Crisis
On October 24, 2018, President Trump signed the most important new health care law this year – legislation to fight the opioid crisis led by Senator Alexander. It deals with the nation’s worst public health challenge by helping to stop deadly fentanyl from coming from China to America by mail, finding new non-addictive pain killers, allowing opioids to be dispensed in blisters packs, for example a 3- or 7- day supplies, and providing more opportunities for treatment. As Chairman of the Senate health committee, Senator Alexander was the lead Senate sponsor.
Since March of 2018, Congress has also approved $8.5 billion to help implement this legislation and support communities, families, law enforcement and medical personnel who are fighting this crisis.
Reducing Health Care Costs
The Lower Health Care Costs Act will reduce what Americans pay out of their pockets for health care in three major ways. First, it ends surprise billing. Second, it creates more transparency— there are twelve bipartisan provisions that will: eliminate gag clauses and anti-competitive terms in insurance contracts, designate a non-profit entity to unlock insurance claims for employers, ban Pharmacy Benefit Managers (PBMs) from charging more for a drug than the PBM paid for the drug, and require that patients receive more information on the cost and quality of their health care. You can’t lower your health care costs until you know what your health care actually costs. And third, it increases prescription drug competition—there are fourteen bipartisan provisions to help more low cost generic and biosimilar drugs reach patients.
Altogether, this legislation will help to lower the cost of health care, which has become a tax on family budgets and on businesses, on federal and state governments. A recent Gallup poll found that the cost of health care was the biggest financial problem facing American families. And last July, this committee heard from Dr. Brent James, from the National Academies, who testified that up to half of what the American people spend on health care may be unnecessary.
Over the last two years, the Senate health committee held 16 hearings on a range of topics related to reducing the cost of health care. In May, Chairman Alexander and Ranking Member Patty Murray (D-Wash.) released for discussion the Lower Health Care Costs Act. The committee received over 400 comments on that draft legislation, the committee also held a hearing to gather additional feedback.
In June, the Chairman and Ranking Member formally introduced the Lower Health Care Costs Act to reduce what Americans pay out of their own pockets for health care. A week later, the Senate health committee approved by a vote of 20-3 the Lower Health Care Costs Act of 2019, legislation that includes 54 proposals from 65 senators — 36 Democrats and 29 Republicans.
Lowering Health Insurance Premiums
Despite the fact that Democrats have elevated Obamacare to the 67th book of the Bible and refuse to change a single word of the law, Senator Alexander and the Trump Administration have been working to lower premiums for the thousands of Tennesseans who buy their own health insurance. Senator Alexander has offered legislation in the Senate that health experts say could lower premiums by up to 40 percent for the millions of Americans who purchase their own health insurance.
In June, the Trump Administration announced a new Department of Labor rule that would allow a self-employed Tennessee plumber or farmer or employee of a small business to buy lower cost employer health insurance that will include the same protections, such as coverage for pre-existing conditions, that employees of large companies have. In August, the Administration announced they would once again allow Americans to purchase lower-cost short-term health insurance plans for up to 12 months – plans that were available to Americans during all of the Obama Administration. These plans are an option for Americans who have lost their job or found Obamacare plans were too expensive. In October, the Administration gave states a better tool to help lower Obamacare health insurance premiums, by giving them more freedom in the law’s 1332 State Innovation Waiver. In four bipartisan health committee hearings Alexander chaired last fall on lowering health insurance premiums, virtually every witness told our committee that the waiver application was too cumbersome, inflexible, and expensive for states to use.
Senator Alexander has helped lead the fight against Obamacare since it was proposed in 2009. At the White House health care summit in February 2010, Alexander gave opening remarks on behalf of all congressional Republicans in opposition to Obamacare. The senator told the president the proposal would raise individual premiums. President Obama disagreed, but Tennesseans have seen their premiums increase 176 percent since 2013.
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