House Democratic Majority Launches Major Probe of Drug Prices

The House Government Oversight Committee, now chaired by Congressman Elijah Cummings of Maryland has written letters to a dozen major drug companies asking for information about their drug pricing policies.  Democrats are vowing to make lowering drug prices a major goal in the House.

“For years, drug companies have been aggressively increasing prices on existing drugs and setting higher launch prices for new drugs while recording windfall profits,” Cummings said in a statement. “The goals of this investigation are to determine why drug companies are increasing prices so dramatically, how drug companies are using the proceeds, and what steps can be taken to reduce prescription drug prices.”

Meanwhile, Democrats in the House are considering a number of actions to address high drug prices for all consumers as well as ways to lower prices through Medicare and using other government powers.  These options include:

-cap out of pocket costs

-negotiate Medicare drug prices

-more generic drugs to market

-use foreign pricing as reference for US prices

-rebuild patent system

-have the government produce some drugs

-import drugs from Canada

The Trump Administration has also made reducing drug prices a priority and Donald Trump suggested that foreign prices could be used as a basis for pricing in this country.  He also wants to promote changes in Medicare pricing and approve more generic drugs.

Trump is Focus of 5 New York House Members Now Key Committee Chairs

Five Democrats have taken over as chairs of key committees in the House of Representatives.  Three  will chair powerful committees on budget, foreign policy and judicial issues.  Nita Lowey of Westchester is chair of the powerful Appropriations Committee which is the key committee deciding on program funding across all government programs including aging programs of which she has been a major supporter.

Eliot Engel is chair of the Foreign Affairs Committee which will have a role in probing the Trump Administration relationships with Russia and Saudi Arabia and other countries.  Jerry Nadler is chair of the powerful Judiciary Committee which would have the role of initiating any impeachment proceedings against Trump.

Carolyn Maloney of Manhattan is chair of the Joint Economic Committee and Nydia Velasquez is chairing the Small Business Committee.  She was the first Puerto Rican woman elected to Congress in 1992.

Nadler and Engel were prominent members of the New York State Assembly for many years.    Nadler served from 1977-1992 and Engel from 1977-1992.   Nita Lowey worked for Governor Mario Cuomo in several roles before she went to Congress.  All of the chairs are considered to be among the more progressive members of the House.

Upstate Legislators Harry Bronson and Rachel May to Chair Aging Committees

Once again following an election turnover, there are new chairs of the Aging Committees in the state Assembly and Senate.   In the Senate, the change was expected since Democrats took power and would appoint one of their members to replace Senator Sue Serino, the previous chair.  Senator Rachel May who just won election in the Syracuse area is the new Senate chair.  She has been a professor at Stony Brook and worked at Syracuse University in the environmental field most recently .

Assemblyman Harry Bronson is the new Assembly chair, replacing Donna Lupardo who is now chairing the Agriculture Committee.  She had been mentioned for the post of Majority Leader which instead went to Crystal Peoples-Stokes of Buffalo.  Bronson represents a district in the Rochester area and has been in the Assembly since 2011.

Both Lupardo and Serino were active leaders of the Aging Committee.  Unfortunately, there is also a lot of turnover in chairs of the committee who often move up to other committees that are more powerful.   There have been some chairs who served for many years like Paul Harenberg in the Assembly who made senior issues his primary concern.

Gustavo Rivera has replaced Kemp Hannon as Chair of the Senate Health Committee as Democrats replace all Republican chairs.  Hannon was defeated in November.  Assemblyman Richard Gottfried continues as Chair of the Health, a position he has held for decades.

The new Legislature which begins its session now includes 15 new members of the Senate.  The Legislature will be much more diverse with more women and persons of different ethnic groups, including the first Indian-American, Iranian-American and Taiwanese-American legislators.

Paid Family Leave Benefits Expand in 2019 as Multi-Year Phase in Continues

New York’s paid family leave program has entered its second year and continues the phase in of benefits as well as length of time a worker can take the benefit. Starting January 1st, 2019, benefits expanded from 8 to 10 weeks of leave at 55% of wages up to $746.41 per week. The employee contribution goes up to a maximum of $2.08/week, and many workers will pay less than this amount. These benefits will grow and be further phased in until 2021 when they will reach 12 weeks of leave at 67% of  wages up to a cap.

The program provides job protection to return to the same or a comparable position.  There is also protection  against discrimination or retaliation for taking the leave and a continuation of  the same health insurance policy for workers taking paid family leave as long as employees continue paying their cost sharing.   For more detailed information on how the program works, here is a link to the state’s website  https://paidfamilyleave.ny.gov/

I am trying to get some data on the number of persons who used the program in 2018, the first year of operation.  It will be interesting to see how many persons used the benefit for caregiving for a sick relative as well as those using it for caring for a newborn and care when a family member went on a military assignment.    Paid family leave is also available for parents adopting a child and can be available for “pending” adoption when needs before the adoption require a parent to be out of work.