Culpeper Star-Exponent: In Culpeper, Spanberger renews focus on lowering drug prices

CULPEPER STAR-EXPONENT, CLINT SCHEMMER

U.S. Rep. Abigail Spanberger and one of her signature issues—lowering prescription drug prices—won the hearty endorsement Thursday of President Joe Biden, who flew to Culpeper County to tout her years-long efforts.

Biden highlighted the lawmaker’s work to reduce health-care costs, a key element of his beleaguered Build Back Better agenda, which has passed the House but faces stiff headwinds in the U.S. Senate.

“It’s great to be here with Abigail, Congresswoman Spanberger,” Biden said at Germanna Community College’s Daniel Technology Center in the town of Culpeper. “And in every chapter in her career, in every chapter, she’s always been about one thing: service. Service.”

Spanberger was introduced at Germanna by Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra, who was first to address the invitation-only crowd, noting that Mayor Frank Reaves met Biden’s party at Culpeper Regional Airport and welcomed Becerra to “the prettiest little town in Virginia.”

The two-term legislator, a Democrat who lives in Henrico County, said she is putting renewed focus—“and more importantly, urgency”—on lowering drug prices.

“Since I first ran for Congress, this issue has been top-of-mind for my constituents,” Spanberger said. “They are outraged that in the United States of America, they have to pay 10 times as much—or more—as what patients in other countries pay for the same medication. For our neighbors with common health conditions like diabetes, heart disease or cancer, I consistently hear about how skyrocketing drug prices are making it harder to stay ahead—and harder to plan for the future.

“I hear about delayed payments on rent or the mortgage. I hear about parents sitting at the dining room table and deciding whether they should drain their child’s education fund to help pay for their child’s medication,” she added. “And I hear from seniors who are skipping a meal because they cannot afford the medication they need to survive.”

While those are personal experiences that people in Virginia’s 7th Congressional District have shared with her, the lawmaker said, “if you were to throw a dart anywhere on a map of the United States, you would hear these exact same stories.”

Spanberger has supported legislation to cap insulin prices on Medicare and private insurance plans. In advancing the Build Back Better framework, she voted to establish the first out-of-pocket cap in Medicare Part D, of $2,000 per year in 2024. The framework also would cap insulin costs at $35 per month for all enrollees in Medicare Part D and in private insurance plans, starting in 2023.

In November 2021, Spanberger voted with a majority of the U.S. House to advance the Build Back Better framework. This framework included provisions that would give Medicare the power to negotiate the price of certain prescription drugs and require drug manufacturers to pay a rebate to the HHS Secretary if they increase the cost of their drugs faster than inflation.

“Lawmakers have spent a lot of time talking about lowering drug costs—and we know the American people are behind this push,” Spanberger said in Culpeper. “But we need to buck up and get it done.

“The Virginians who are with us today have their own stories of how high drug costs have impacted them—and Congress needs to demonstrate that we are not just listening to them, not just talking to them—but we are delivering for them.”

Biden is the first U.S. chief executive to visit a Germanna campus in the college’s 52-year history. It opened in 1970 in Orange County.

Spanberger said she was proud to bring him to one of Germanna’s campuses in its seven-county Central Virginia region, which also includes the city of Fredericksburg.

“Mr. President, this institution does tremendous workforce training—and they truly have a heart for not just the careers of their students, but also for their well-being,” the lawmaker said. “If anyone in your administration has questions about how to get the next generation prepared and how to keep our country competitive, I would encourage them to look no further than this place.”

The president’s wife, Dr. Jill Biden, teaches at Northern Virginia Community College, and was at that school as her husband spoke at Germanna, he noted.

Spanberger praised her constituents for supporting small businesses, first responders, police and health-care workers throughout the COVID-19 crisis.

“Throughout this pandemic, places like Culpeper have looked out for their neighbors,” she said. “… We have seen tremendous progress in the battle against this virus. But even in the midst of this moment of recovery, our communities still struggle with the sticker price of many items—including and especially at the pharmacy counter. COVID has exacerbated what was always already a staggering, day-to-day cost for Virginia families—and we are long overdue in addressing it.”

The legislator has made trying to cut health-care costs a major issue since she first campaigned to unseat Rep. David Brat. Seventh District residents have told her, again and again, that it is one of the most important problems they confront in their daily lives.

In September 2021, Spanberger spearheaded an effort to preserve negotiation for Medicare drug prices after it was stripped out of a bill by House Democrats. In the last Congress, she voted with a bipartisan majority to pass the Lower Drug Costs Now Act—which would also give Medicare the power to negotiate.

She noted Thursday that she has worked hard to hold drug companies and pharmacy benefit managers accountable for increasing the prices that cancer patients pay “all behind a shroud of secrecy.”

In 2019, the House voted 403-0 to pass her Public Disclosure of Drug Discounts Act to tackle the affordability crisis and make drug-price negotiations more open.

In 2021, Spanberger introduced the bipartisan Improving Transparency to Lower Drug Costs Act to require PBMs to publicly report their drug rebates, discounts and other price concessions.

State Sen. Bryce Reeves, R-Spotsylvania, issued a news release before Thursday’s Biden-Spanberger event before it had ended.

“You’d think in the face of (the economic) crisis, President Biden and Congresswoman Spanberger would be working around the clock to try and reel in the inflationary policies that are crushing the middle class,” Reeves wrote. “But of course they’re not. What’re they doing instead?

“Holding an event in Culpeper to try and sell an even bigger spending package and drive inflation higher,” he said in his statement.

Spanberger is seeking re-election this fall to a third term in the U.S. House of Representatives. Several Republicans, including Reeves, are vying to become their party’s challenger in the high-profile race.

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