A congressional town hall was held to discuss healthcare and the price of prescription medicines in the University of Michigan’s Gerald R. Ford School of Public Policy Annenberg Auditorium Tuesday night.
The panelists included U.S. Rep. Debbie Dingell, D-Mich., state Rep. Yousef Rahbi, D-Ann Arbor, and Maggie Randolph, senior research analyst at the Center for Health and Research Transformation. Panelists also answered questions from concerned residents.
Dingell and Rabhi began the discussion by describing the healthcare proposals they are each working on. Dingell is co-sponsoring Medicare for All, a bill she said would remove the profit motive in healthcare, resolve inefficiencies and provide quality healthcare for everyone. Rabhi presented MiCare, a universal single-payer health coverage plan in Michigan, designed to appear on a ballot so residents can directly decide whether to ratify it.
Rabhi, like Dingell, hopes to remove the profitable aspect of healthcare and believes residents are falling victim to pharmaceutical corporations.
“In America we are allowing drug companies, we’re allowing health insurance companies to … run the show when it comes to our healthcare decisions,” Rabhi said. “We have lost our individual freedoms. We have lost our individual liberties, not to the government, but to corporations who have decided that they will take over our healthcare.”
Rabhi said MiCare would eliminate co-pays, premiums and deductibles. Instead of this, he said residents would instead be charged on an income-based progressive tax system.
Dingell shared how residents had approached her about the rising cost of prescriptions, in particular, the inhaler.
“I have heard from parent after parent and patient after patient about the inhaler,” Dingell said. “I went into a drug store and that red inhaler is $700.”
Dingell also told the story of a Transportation Security Administration agent who started reducing his daily dosage of insulin by half for fear he might run out soon. A study done by Michigan Medicine in 2016 found the price of insulin had tripled in the last 10 years.
Ann Arbor resident Maria Matta understood the importance of discussing rising costs of insulin, but also wanted to know what the representatives were doing about discrimination in healthcare.
“We also need to acknowledge something else about the healthcare system: It is ageist, it is sexist, it is racist, it is xenophobic,” Matta said. “We can’t just talk about the cost of inhalers.”
Dingell, who founded the National Women’s Health and Resource Center, agreed with Matta’s statements and mentioned how women’s health is not thoroughly researched, leaving many health concerns left unanswered.
“The more I studied it, I discovered women were not included in any federally funded research,” Dingell said. “No one’s spending a damn penny on it or enough of it in women’s research, and we don’t have the answers. So I am someone who is very empathetic and sympathetic to what you’re saying, and we need to change.”
One veteran asked what types of alternative medicines the representatives were looking into and if those on Medicaid would have to pay for out of pocket expenses. Rabhi said the tax would cover any extra expenses and talked about testing being done on veterans involving the use of medical marijuana.
Several audience members asked about the greed of insurance companies and healthcare providers and what the representatives were doing to curve the influence of these entities. Dingell said she believes transparency is necessary.
Similarly, Rabhi discussed bills being introduced that would require transparency at all levels of the health care system. He specifically noted a bill requiring pharmaceutical drug companies to disclose what factors go into setting drug prices.
Rabhi also said there are plans to require brokers —a position also known as pharmacy benefit managers or PBMs — who work between drug companies and health insurance to disclose their pricing as well.
“It’s been this fun chain reaction, and last time I met with on of them, the last piece of it was you know, ‘okay if you make us disclose, you make the PBMs disclose. What about the health insurance companies?’” Rabhi said.
Rabhi said his solution would require all three levels of the healthcare system to be equally transparent.
At the end of the town hall, a group of residents holding signs calling for Trump’s impeachment stood up and asked the representatives when the president would be impeached. The demonstrators cited a fear for the future of democracy as reasoning of attendance.
Dingell said she has seen the Mueller report and understands why residents are concerned for the future of the country. Both Dingell and Rabhi agreed they did not know when or if Trump would undergo impeachment trials before the next election, but they did agree to continue fighting on certain issues, including healthcare.
“I’ve read the report,” Dingell said. “I’ve read all 438 pages of it, and it should scare the shit and bother every one of you what’s in that report. It is very clear that Russia tried to interfere in our election in 2016, and also when you read that report, you know that the Russians are trying to divide us, and that deeply bothers me.”