Where Republicans and Democrats agree on healthcare


Sen. Bernie Sanders said at a CNN town hall on the future of U.S. healthcare last week that Republicans and Democrats do agree on some healthcare issues.

“Nobody up here wants to see anybody die,” the Vermont independent said, referring to the other town hall participants, Republican Sens. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina and Bill Cassidy of Louisiana and Democratic Sen. Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota.

The remarks came during a testy discussion that served as a proxy for deep partisan divisions over the future of the healthcare system. Republicans, who failed again in the Senate to replace Obamacare last week, said Democrats won’t admit that the law is failing while Democrats say Republicans want to take away healthcare from millions of people.

But beyond Obamacare as a whole, the two parties do agree on many healthcare issues and have forged bipartisan consensus.

Prescription drug costs: Democrats and Republicans agree that drug prices in the U.S. need to be reduced substantially. It was one of the few areas of bipartisanship in the CNN town hall on healthcare. Anger over drug prices has been building for years after high-profile instances of major price hikes.

But while both parties agree something needs to be done, the agreement largely ends there. Democrats and Republicans did agree to add new measures to a Food and Drug Administration funding bill in August that lets the FDA approve generic drugs faster if an off-brand drug is being sold at an exorbitant price. But Republicans have shown no interest in pursuing Democratic reforms such as giving Medicare the power to negotiate prices or letting Americans buy drugs from Canada. Sen. Bill Cassidy, R-La., said on CNN that Canada doesn’t have enough drugs to supply the Americans who would buy the cheaper products.

Funding for medical research: President Trump drew a swift outcry from Congress when he proposed in his budget to cut 20 percent from the National Institutes of Health.

But the outcry wasn’t just from Democrats. Republicans took a major role in leading the charge to preserve funding for NIH, a nod to the bipartisan agreement the two parties have on medical research funding. In December, former President Barack Obama signed into law the 21st Century Cures Act, which included $9 billion in new funding for NIH over 10 years.

The medical research center has some influential allies, including Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., who serves as chairman of the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee. Another key ally is Rep. Tom Cole, R-Okla., who serves on the powerful House Appropriations Committee.

Opioid treatment: Toward the end of Obama’s tenure, members of Congress passed a bipartisan bill that included funding for the treatment of opioid addiction. This year, lawmakers from both parties have held hearings exploring what else the government can do to stave off deaths from prescription painkillers and its illegal counterpart, heroin, which resulted in more than 33,000 deaths in 2015.

One bipartisan bill introduced by Sens. John McCain, R-Ariz., and Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., would prohibit doctors from prescribing more than a week’s supply of an opioid painkiller to patients who have acute pain. Refills would be prohibited. But prescriptions to treat chronic illnesses and end-of-life care would not be subject to the rules. Several states, including New York and Arizona, already have enacted similar policies.

Support for caregivers: The Senate’s bipartisan Recognize, Assist, Include, Support, and Engage, or RAISE Family Caregivers Act, is headed to the House. It would direct the Health and Human Services secretary to develop a way to support family caregivers, of whom there are more than 40 million. The bill was sponsored by Sens. Tammy Baldwin, D-Wis., and Susan Collins, R-Maine, and is meant to address the aging population and the health of caregivers, who face stress and chronic conditions such as depression and heart disease.

Repeal of the medical device tax: The 2.3 percent excise tax is part of Obamacare and is opposed by both Democrats and Republicans. It was suspended this year as part of a spending bill, and scrapping it may still be part of efforts on tax reform or in other areas. The medical device industry has been increasing pressure on members of Congress to suspend or repeal the tax, arguing that it will stifle innovation and job creation. Outside conservative groups also have pressured Republicans to repeal the tax, and some large medical device manufacturers are based in blue states.

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Where Republicans and Democrats agree on healthcare

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