Week Ending December 13, 2019

Thanks to action by AFSCME members and retirees, the House has passed H.R. 3, a bill that would lower drug prices for Americans.

  • House Passes Bill to Lower Drug Prices
  • USMCA Agreement Reached
  • House Approves 12 Weeks Paid Parental Leave for All Federal Employees
  • Bipartisan Agreement Reached on Surprise Medical Bills

House Passes Bill to Lower Drug Prices

Thanks to calls and action by AFSCME members and retirees, the House passed the Elijah E. Cummings Lower Drug Costs Now Act of 2019 (H.R. 3) by a vote of 230 to 192 on Thursday. With this vote, the House’s Democratic leadership has delivered on a promise to take bold steps to lower drug prices, including for insulin, for all Americans, no matter whether people get their health coverage through a job, the Affordable Care Act, Medicare or other insurance. For too long, drug corporations been unchecked in their ability to set sky-high prices for prescription drugs. When drug corporations make medicines unaffordable, it is especially outrageous given that public dollars fund most of the research needed to develop cures. H.R. 3 creates a counterweight to that unchecked corporate power by directing the government to negotiate for lower drug prices and providing the tools to make that happen. After the House passed the bill, AFSCME President Lee Saunders said, “Now it is time for the Senate to do its job and vote on this vital bill.”

  • Responds to Price Gouging: H.R. 3 directs our government to stand on the side of all Americans and protect us from price gouging by directly negotiating for lower prescription drug prices. The lower negotiated fair price must be offered to group plans that cover workers and their families.
  • Limits Costs: It creates a $2,000 out-of-pocket limit on prescription drugs for people on Medicare.
  • New Medicare Benefits: It takes the federal savings from drug negotiations and reinvests them into long-awaited new Medicare benefits to cover dental, vision and hearing.

What You Need to Know: In 2016, President Donald Trump said he supported having the federal government negotiate drug prices, but now he is threatening to veto the bill because it requires direct negotiations with drug corporations. The Senate Finance Committee has passed bipartisan legislation to reduce drug prices, but the committee’s proposal does not require any negotiations and would not lower prices for working families that have job-based health plans. AFSCME will press the Senate to take up bold legislation to lower drug prices for all Americans because the cost of inaction is too high. Congress cannot allow drug corporations to continue to harm millions of Americans who can’t afford life-saving medicines. Congress must hold prescription drug corporations accountable.

USMCA Agreement Reached

On Monday, Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) announced that final changes to the U.S.-Mexico-Canada (USMCA) trade agreement, also known as NAFTA 2.0, had been agreed to after she secured support from AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka. From the onset, Pelosi had made a commitment to labor that she would not agree to a USMCA deal unless labor supports it. Labor’s priorities were strong labor and environmental standards with meaningful enforcement mechanisms and the removal of excessive patent protections that had the effect of locking in high consumer prices for certain prescription drugs. 

  • Agreement Helps Workers: Although the deal is not perfect, it now includes language that will help workers. The final agreement is said to include enforceable labor standards and a process for allowing routine inspections of factories and facilities. It adds a labor-specific dispute panel system and an inter-agency committee to monitor labor rights in Mexico. It removes loopholes designed to make it harder to prosecute labor violations. It eliminates a 10-year data exclusivity period for biologic drugs. Overall, the agreement establishes a new standard for trade agreements.
  • Agreement Benefits the Economy: According to the U.S. International Trade Commission, the renegotiated agreement will increase U.S. trade with Mexico and Canada by about 5%, resulting in a 0.35% GDP increase in its sixth year. It is projected to increase U.S. workers’ annual incomes by an average of $150 and increase employment by 0.12%, or roughly 176,000 jobs.

What You Need to Know: It is expected that the three countries will ratify the agreement in their legislatures. The House plans to vote on the implementing bill next week. The Senate will take up the bill next year.

House Approves 12 Weeks Paid Parental Leave for All Federal Employees

The House of Representatives voted on an overwhelmingly bipartisan basis to grant federal employees 12 weeks of paid parental leave to care for their new children. This is a huge win for federal workers and the biggest expansion of workplace benefit in decades.

  • Family Friendly Benefit: This benefit allows every civilian federal employee to take 12 weeks paid parental leave to care for their newborn, newly adopted, or new foster placed child. This provision was included in the House-Senate National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) conference report, which is a broad package affecting defense and security policies.
  • AFSCME Support: At a press conference with congressional champions and allied labor unions, AFSCME President Lee Saunders said, “If you serve the nation as a federal employee, you should be able to spend that time at home, without compromising your family’s economic security. … And we will continue to lobby for laws at the state and federal level that give all working people the right to take time off to take care of their families.” 

What You Need to Know: This pro-family paid parental leave provision will be available to an estimated 2.1 million federal government employees. AFSCME applauds House Oversight Committee Chairwoman Carolyn Maloney (D-N.Y.), the champion of this provision, and Armed Services Committee Chairman Adam Smith (D-Wash.) for working to include this provision in the NDAA package. NDAA is expected to pass the Senate and to be signed into law.

Bipartisan Agreement on Surprise Medical Bills

Democratic and Republican leaders have reached an agreement to stop out-of-network providers from hitting families with surprise medical bills. 

  • “No Surprises Act”: This tentative deal would stop out-of-network providers, like some hospitals, emergency room doctors or anesthesiologists, from charging insured workers anything they want even though the insured worker had no control in selecting the provider.
  • Limits Medical Debt: The most common surprise medical bills are sent by out-of-network emergency room providers above what the health plan already paid the provider. These bills can be eyepopping and can put working families into serious medical debt.
  • Fair Reimbursement Process Needed: The agreement would stop  balance billing and set a process for fairly reimbursing these out-of-network providers.

What You Need to Know: Corporate interests are fighting to kill any deal to stop surprise billing because it is a lucrative part of the health care business. After all, in a health emergency you will take your loved one to the ER no matter how much they charge you afterwards. AFSCME is pressing Congress to help working families by passing legislation that stops this type of exploitation of people in health emergencies.

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