Health care is a mess in this country. We especially feel this in the Valley, where people have to wait months to see a specialist, and where the cost of prescription drugs is out of control. But Washington has been slower than molasses doing anything about it. Health care is a life and death issue and we have to find a way for people with differing opinions to come together.
We did a good job getting coverage for more people through health care reform about a decade ago, but costs and access are still huge problems. I’ve talked to moms who have rationed insulin for their kids to save money. I even spoke to one woman who took her dog’s medicine because it was cheaper. I recently commissioned a report that showed folks in the Central Valley pay 21 times more for insulin than in Australia. For the exact same drug. At a time when pharmaceutical companies are making record profits. It’s ridiculous.
At just about every town hall I hold, I hear from someone who has waited months to see a doctor. People drive to Stockton or the Bay just to get the care they need. It’s another example of how we’ve been left behind in the Valley, while San Francisco has about twice as many doctors per person as we do.
I’ve only been in office for about 10 months, so I don’t have illusions that I’ll be able to fix this by myself. But something has to be done. That’s why I’m working with folks on both sides of the aisle. I don’t care what political party you’re in – you have a family and you want them healthy. We need our leaders to spend less time yelling at each other and more time on common-sense proposals to cut costs and improve access.
Let’s talk about doctor shortages. Right now, doctors in every state besides California and Texas qualify for a special loan forgiveness program through the Department of Education. But, because of an old law, doctors here don’t qualify. If I were a med school grad with hundreds of thousands of dollars in debt, and a lot of it could be forgiven by moving to another state, I’d probably ask myself what I’m still doing in California. A lot of doctors have asked that question. And a lot have left the state.
So, I got to work with Democrats and Republicans to introduce the Stopping Doctor Shortages Act. The bill would do just what it sounds like. And it would have a huge impact. According to the California Medical Association, the bill could bring 10,000 new doctors to California in five years. Because it has such broad bipartisan support, I expect this bill will pass.
The other big issue we’re working on is cutting drug prices. Again, this isn’t a partisan issue. Both President Trump and Democratic leaders want to get something done on this. I’m all in, too. Drug companies have made a killing jacking up prices and using shady tactics to stifle competition.
A bill we’re working on would fight back. It would allow Medicare to negotiate prices. It would save seniors thousands of dollars a year and help the Medicare system save money. And anyone – regardless of where they get insurance – would be able to buy drugs at prices that Medicare negotiates. That would mean the cost of some drugs would be cut in half.
Our families in the Valley need real results. This isn’t a game; while both sides in Washington posture and attack the other guys, regular people are paying through the nose for their drugs and driving hours just to see a doctor. It’s time to end the political nonsense and get something done.
U.S. Rep. Josh Harder’s 10th District covers Stanislaus County and southern San Joaquin County.