WASHINGTON - Rep. Greg Walden, R-Ore., chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, held a hearing Thursday "to begin the process of rebuilding the nation’s health care system," according to a news release from his office.
During the hearing, Walden discussed legislation he will be introducing to ensure patients with pre-existing conditions will always have access to health insurance. He also spoke of giving patients lower costs, more choices, and more control when it comes to their health care.
Below are Walden’s opening remarks from the hearing:
“I would note for the record, there have been multiple pieces of legislation since Obamacare was enacted that have received Democrat and Republican votes, and actually signed by the President to repeal problems in Obamacare. Those became law. To argue that nothing has ever been done to try to straighten it out is false. I think Democrats combined cast 4,775 votes to repeal, to reform, to change Obamacare. Check the facts,” said Walden.
“We're here today, because, on our side, we're working to repeal Obamacare. It's not working. It's left a lot of wreckage. We're here to clean it up."
"We know what Obamacare has done to the health care system, it's why we're hard at work crafting reconciliation language to repeal it. Today we begin the important work of laying the foundation to rebuild America's health care markets.
As we dismantle Obamacare, we have to save this individual health care insurance market. It is collapsing. If you want to walk away and just let it collapse, that is a pox on your side. That's not what I'm about. I've always been a problem solver, and you'll hear us talk about bipartisan legislation to go after those who try to corner certain markets, and drive up costs for things like EpiPen. I'm happy to work with you, so we can move this forward and take care of people.
“There's no shortage of evidence that patients and families are hurting under the overwhelming weight of Obamacare. Patients in 21 states have an average premium increase of 25% or more this year. People in seven states will experience premium increases of 50% or more. That's not sustainable.
In 2016, there were 225 counties across America that had just one insurance choice in the market. Just one on the exchange. This year, that number has climbed to 1,022 counties with just one insurer. That's one third of the entire number of counties in the country. One third. Five entire states now and patients there have just one choice.
"If you focus on what those plans are saying, they're evaluating right now whether they can even stay in these markets in the outlying years because of what is coming in existing law passed in a partisan manner by Democrats. Only five out of the original 23 insurance co-ops remain in vis-a-vis. Five out of 23. They tried it, it didn't work. Two of those failed co-ops are sadly in my own state of Oregon and we're pretty progressive about trying new things. And a lot of it has worked. These did not.
"We have the responsibility to prevent a real train wreck for millions of Americans. Not only can we solve this problem but we must solve this problem. It's time to end the partisan rhetoric and actually come to the table and solve these problems and I commend my colleagues on both sides of the aisle who're willing to do that. The proposals before us today close enrollment gaps, protect taxpayers, and give patients cost relief. The first three bills should come as no surprise. They were introduced last Congress and come from two hearings of this Subcommittee. The other proposals are equally important to all of us. We will all ensure patients with pre-existing conditions will always have access to coverage and care - period.
"Our Better Way agenda envisions a new patient protection in the individual market where healthy patients keep health coverage. HIPAA, Medicare Part B, and Medicare Part D can serve as guidance for the Congress as we consider how to best achieve the goals of protecting America's sickest patients and maintaining market stability. We can do both without Obamacare's unpopular individual mandate where all these carve outs have occurred. We've got the best minds focused on helping us, including our witnesses today. We're going to get this right. We're going to take the time to get this right.”
Walden also noted that his committee will soon advance a bill introduced by fellow Oregon lawmaker, Rep. Kurt Schrader and Rep. Gus Bilirakis of Florida to modernize drug development and lower the costs of pharmaceuticals.
“While I know our focus today is on insurance reform, we're also working on other areas of health care to bring relief to patients. Next week, we will take up legislation sponsored by Representatives Bilirakis and Schrader. A bipartisan bill to modernize generic drug development and increase competition in the market,” Walden said. “And for those in the industry who think it is OK to corner a market and drive up prices and rip off consumers, know that your days are numbered.
“President Trump made it clear in the White House meeting I attended with him and Vice President Pence that he wants competition to bring lower drug prices, and that is precisely what this measure will help accomplish. Patients are tired of waiting for relief, we're going to move forward in a bipartisan way to give them help. It's an important first step, it needs to happen now.
“Specifically, the bill would require the FDA to prioritize and expedite the review of generic applications for drug products that are currently in shortage or where there are too few manufacturers on the market. We all remember recent situations where bad actors jacked up the prices of older drugs because there was no competition. We want to make sure that does not happen again.
“This bill would also increase transparency around the current generic drug backlog at the FDA. While progress has been made, there are still an unacceptably high number of generic drug applications sitting at the Food and Drug Administration that, if and when approved, could bring additional lower-cost alternatives to patients.
"Whether it is examples like Daraprim or EpiPen, patients need solutions. I believe this bipartisan bill gives us a new tool to fight back on their behalf.”