Prescription drug costs, Medicare for All debate take center stage as Pelosi, McConnell address AHA

Washington, D.C. National Capitol Building
Hospital leaders were treated to opposing arguments from the nation's top congressional leaders headed to the American Hospital Association's annual meeting Tuesday. (Getty/tupungato)

WASHINGTON, D.C.— House Speaker Nancy Pelosi called for the president to back efforts to allow Medicare to negotiate to bring down prescription drug costs. 

Addressing the annual American Hospital Association membership meeting in the nation's capital, Pelosi, D-California, said she hoped for bipartisan support for legislation that would allow Medicare to negotiate for lower drug prices.

"We are going to insist the secretary negotiate for lower drug prices," Pelosi said, referring to Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar. "Together we must hold the president accountable to his campaign promises to ensure that he signs this legislation when it reaches his desk. Every time I speak to him he says, 'Yes, yes. We've got to lower the cost of prescription drugs.' We want to enable him to do that." 

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Her comments came at the same time a House committee held a hearing on the role of pharmacy benefit managers in driving drug prices. 

A number of appeals were directed to the audience of hospital leaders by Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, who each took political shots as they addressed some of the top issues in healthcare.

RELATED: What is ‘Medicare for all’? A look at 4 of the different possibilities

McConnell stuck with a theme he knew would be popular among the hospital audience: opposition to Medicare for All, calling the idea "radical" and "Medicare for none." 

"You should not be guinea pigs in some far left social experiment. You are economic engines in your communities. You’re institutions that families rely on," McConnell said. "You sign the fronts of paychecks every month. You’ve made enormous investments in order to care for patients. Yet one study estimates that even under a pared down version of this policy, hospitals could be set to lose $800 billion."

He encouraged the hospital leaders, who were planning trips to Capitol Hill later in the day, to focus their attention in meetings with lawmakers on their opposition to Medicare for All. "Soon they may call it by other names," McConnell said. "They may call it a public option, they may call it Medicare buy-in. Call it anything else, it’s all the same," McConnell said. "Let’s be clear. The intent and the results are exactly alike: shifting power from patients and providers to government bureaucrats."

Pelosi, in turn, worked to shift the focus back to the Affordable Care Act, a law that enjoys broad hospital support for its expansions in coverage. Pelosi told the audience of hospital leaders Democrats introduced legislation with protections against "junk" association health plans, that "reverses Republican sabotage" of the ACA and that would lower health insurance premiums.

RELATED: Payers, providers push back on Democrats' Medicare buy-in plan

"We all share the common goal of affordable, quality healthcare coverage for all," Pelosi said. "There are many paths to this goal. You've heard of some of them. Some of them may not be advocated today. Medicare for All. Single payer. Whatever it is. All that creative tension is valuable as we go forward. We can't go down any path unless we strengthen the Affordable Care Act."

She also said Democrats were working to protect Medicare and Medicaid—including Medicaid payments to disproportionate share hospitals—while Republicans wanted to see the programs "wither on the vine."

"That continues to be their belief and the belief of the president that he wants to destroy it all. And that is why they are not showing us what they have instead," Pelosi said. "We're going to see it after the election." 

McConnell said he's often asked what Republicans are for when it comes to American's healthcare. 

"As far as I'm concerned, the answer is pretty simple. We're for preserving what works and fixing what doesn't. We're for strengthening the private employer-provided coverage that more than 180 million Americans count on, we're for strengthening Medicare Advantage, we're for giving states flexibility for implementing Medicaid the right way, we're for creating affordable options for individuals who Obamacare has failed and priced out of the individual market. And yes you better believe we're committed to fighting against our Democratic colleagues latest ideological dream: Medicare for All."

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