On a day new polling showed him pulling ahead in Iowa, Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Bernard Sanders was at the Capitol, pushing to cut prescription drug prices.
The independent from Vermont who caucuses with the Democrats was joined by Rep. Elijah E. Cummings, D-Md., to unveil a wide-ranging overhaul of policies regarding the pharmaceutical business, including transparency requirements, a proposal to end the practice of "pay-for-delay" patent settlements and Medicare price bargaining.
Sanders highlighted his longstanding support for re-importation of drugs from Canada, which neighbors both his home state and the first-in-the-nation primary state of New Hampshire.
"You cannot with a straight face say that 'I believe in free trade, and isn't it wonderful we're bringing lettuce and tomatoes from small farms in Mexico,'" Sanders said. "But somehow you cannot bring brand-name drugs from multi-billion dollar companies from Canada across the border. Nobody with a straight face can make that case."
The Cummings and Sanders proposals aren't strictly partisan. Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., has long championed allowing drugs to be brought in from Canada, and Judiciary Chairman Charles E. Grassley, R-Iowa, has long advocated for a crackdown on "pay-for-delay" deals.
Sanders said he is hearing about the price of drugs throughout the country, as he is expanding the footprint of his 2016 bid beyond the earliest states with polling showing him ahead of former Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton.
"This is the health care issue perhaps on people's minds more than any other, and let me repeat a simple point: a lot of medicine, a lot of the therapy in medicine, how we get better, deals with medicine," Sanders said. "You can have the best diagnosis in the world, the best doctor in the world. It doesn't matter if what he or she prescribes cannot be filled and cannot be utilized. So, this is an issue that millions of people are deeply concerned about."
Cummings, who has worked with Sanders on investigating pharmaceutical prices, said he heard about the issue regularly in Baltimore.
"Not only do we hear from constituents, but we hear from hospitals like Johns Hopkins. They're saying that this is a major, major problem, and they are looking for some kind of relief. Why? Because they want to help their patients. They want to make sure that their efforts are effective and efficient," Cummings said. "Like Sen. Sanders said, if somebody gets ... the care, then gets their prescription and then can't afford it, that's a real problem."
"The other piece that I think gnaws at me is that it seems to be a thing of greed here, and that bothers me a lot, particularly when people are dying and suffering needlessly," Cummings added. "I think that's why it ranks No. 1 with the American people with regard to health care issues."
While Sanders fielded a few political questions about his bid for higher office at the end of the news conference, Cummings declined to comment on his possible bid for the Maryland Senate seat being vacated by the retirement of Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski.
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