Heading Toward Retirement, Weinberg Fights for Lower Healthcare Costs

Senator Weinberg at today's virtual press conference.

Senate Majority Leader Loretta Weinberg, a veteran of the New Jersey legislature for 29 years, spoke to lend her voice to calls for the federal government to enact cost-lowering legislation for medical-related expenses.   She joined a virtual conference set up by Protect Our Care New Jersey, an organization which seeks to “protect and strengthen health care for millions of Americans.”  The Protect Our Care website says, “With Joe Biden in the White House, and Democrats in charge of the House and Senate, we have a once in a decade opportunity to increase coverage, lower health care costs and address racial inequities in our health care system. But we must act quickly and decisively to overturn four years of Republican sabotage and make the progress Americans deserve.”

To that end, Senator Weinberg, who is leaving the Senate at the end of her term, called upon residents to pressure their representatives as well as US Senators Menendez and Booker to use President Biden’s “Build Back Better” agenda to address skyrocketing health costs.

“We know that Americans pay more for prescription drugs than anywhere in the world,” Weinberg said, “and pay three times more for prescription drugs than people in other countries. This is simply unacceptable.”  She related an occasion when she and a pharmacist together were able to secure relief for a woman in dire need of medication she could not afford.  She said the abundance of pharmacies in Teaneck “underscores just how many of our friends and neighbors are relying on life saving medications, every single day. One of those pharmacies on the corner is owned by my neighbor, Michael Fedida from J&J Pharmacy… one day he contacted me when one of his customers, suffering from melanoma could no longer afford the medication that she needed to live. It took both Michael and me making numerous phone calls, and sending several letters to the drug manufacturer, until the CEO finally relented and provided the medication at no cost. While we may have been able to help this one person received her life saving medication, not everyone has a corner pharmacist or state senator to call upon.”  Despite these efforts, she noted, the individual they helped succumbed to her illness seven months later.

Weinberg said that the crushing costs need to be handled on the federal level, and that it defied her understanding how an agency such as Medicare was not empowered already to handle pricing.  As she is a resident of Congressman Josh Gottheimer’s 5th congressional district, her message would be clearly directed at the New Jersey delegation in general and Gottheimer in particular.

Weinberg cited an October 19 poll from Public Policy Polling, saying, “An overwhelming majority… seventy-seven percent of voters in the Fifth Congressional District say they support giving Medicare the power to lower prescription drug prices for all Americans.  The survey shows that Medicare negotiation is supportive across party lines, including 90% of the Democrats, 73% of independents, and 65% of Republicans. The numbers show that our constituents, and the people of New Jersey’s Fifth Congressional District, are ready for Congress to take bold action. It’s really time for Congress to listen to their constituents.”

Bipartisanship is an attractive subject for Gottheimer, a leader of the bipartisan Problem Solvers Caucus, a group of Republican and Democratic lawmakers which tries to push policies across the ever-deepening party divide.  Supporters see this as good for democracy while opponents have criticized the caucus as being self-serving and watering down Democratic-backed legislation.  Gottheimer, for his part, has spent considerable time and energy focused on getting the bipartisan infrastructure bill through the House before the much-larger budget reconciliation.  The reconciliation presents an opportunity for various spending programs, currently at the tune of $3.5 trillion, although conservatives see this as too far reaching while progressives, who have protested at Gottheimer’s office and, recently, were even arrested in front of his house, say it does not go far enough.

“The way we perceive our national politics, I’m surprised when anything can cross party lines even if it’s logical and appropriate,” Weinberg lamented.  “Let me just say as a preface, New Jersey is known as the medicine cabinet of the world, because so much of the pharmaceutical industry is right here in our backyard, and they do remarkable work.”

Despite all the disagreements which people have—which there is no shortage of—whichever side of the aisle they align, all have been impacted in some way or another by the pandemic.  Thousands of families have lost loved ones, businesses have taken a beating, schools have been disrupted, and the mental health of the state, nation, and world as a whole has been under enormous stress.  Weinberg saluted the role played by New Jersey pharmaceutical businesses and acknowledged that the pandemic is a matter which knows no affiliation or label.  “I think COVID-19 has shown that beyond anybody’s comprehension.  I was able to get a booster shot and feel comfortable that I am–with reasonable care on my part–protected against COVID-19, thanks to the great minds in the pharmaceutical industry.  But, having said all of that, this is an issue that does unite everybody because we all, sooner or later, will need a prescription, whether it’s a onetime antibiotic or it’s a chronic diabetes treatment, or anything else. Americans are united, but they need to be more than united in terms of responding to a poll.  They need to reach out to their congressional representatives and to our US Senators to make their feelings, wishes, and stories known.”

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