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U.S. Rep. Casten part of panel aiming to address drug prices

U.S. Rep. Sean Casten speaks to an audience about affordable health care and prescription drug prices Saturday at McHenry County College. Graciela Guzman, coalition manager for Protect Our Care Illinois; Margarida Jorge, executive director of Health Care for America Now in Washington, D.C.; and William McNary, co-executive director of Citizen Action/Illinois, also participated in the event.
U.S. Rep. Sean Casten speaks to an audience about affordable health care and prescription drug prices Saturday at McHenry County College. Graciela Guzman, coalition manager for Protect Our Care Illinois; Margarida Jorge, executive director of Health Care for America Now in Washington, D.C.; and William McNary, co-executive director of Citizen Action/Illinois, also participated in the event.

An orthopedic hand surgeon said there have been patients who lost fingers because they could not afford prescription drugs to fend off infection.

Dr. Ramsey Ellis made the opening remarks Saturday at McHenry County College, where a panel gathered to discuss the “skyrocketing” prices of health care. About 70 people attended the event to talk about what drives the price of prescription medications and its “tremendous impact” on people.

Ellis said the high prices result in a “loss of work” and “human suffering.”

The panel – organized by the Coalition for a Better Illinois 6th, IndivisableNWIL and other advocacy groups – included U.S. Rep. Sean Casten, who represents Illinois’ 6th Congressional District. Graciela Guzman, coalition manager for Protect Our Care Illinois; Margarida Jorge, executive director of Health Care for America Now in Washington, D.C.; and William McNary, co-executive director of Citizen Action/Illinois, also sat on the panel.

The event was held to educate voters and health care advocates about the cause of expensive prescription drugs and the landscape for the political debate expected this fall.

“There are competing bills about how we solve the problem of skyrocketing drug prices,” said Reid McCollum, a leader for the coalition. “There will be debating as to what the best path moving forward will be.”

Casten discussed various bills he has sponsored to prevent pharmaceutical companies from delaying the release of generic drugs to the market, which would be cheaper for consumers. He also talked about a bill that would allow Medicare to negotiate prices with pharmaceutical companies similar to the way Medicaid and Blue Cross Blue Shield do.

These bills have passed the U.S. House of Representatives but have not been considered by the Senate, McCollum said.

Casten also said people need to pay close attention to a lawsuit filed in the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals that challenges the constitutionality of the Affordable Care Act.

“The Affordable Care Act must be fully implemented ... must be funded ... must be expanded,” said William McNary, co-executive director of Citizen Action/Illinois. “We came a long way, but we have a long way to go.”

All panel members agreed that the way to make health care affordable to everyone is to take on “Big Pharma.”

McNary said it is no coincidence that in the same time the Sackler family, who owns the company that produces the opioid Oxycontin, earned billions of dollars, hundreds of thousands of people were dying from opioid overdoses.

As big pharmaceutical companies began marketing and advertising in the 1990s, prescription prices shot up. The prices did not increase because, as many companies claim, they are paying for research, said Margarida Jorge, executive director of Health Care for America Now in Washington, D.C.

The speakers each said that health care will be at the center of the 2020 presidential election. They encouraged people to educate voters to know the issues.

“So many people are so angry,” Jorge said. “Health care will continue to be front and center. Get out and educate people. We will make tremendous gains in 2020 and 2021. We will be able to make changes to improve people’s lives.”

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