This Labor Day, Historic Announcements Celebrate Progress for Workers

By Amanda Swanson Blog, Lower Drug Prices

Labor Day was created to honor and celebrate American workers, the backbone of the economy and the engine of our democracy. Working people today continue to face a massive array of barriers to balancing work with family responsibilities, earning wages that keep up with cost of living, and affording healthcare that they can count on when they need it. But they are also making progress under the current Administration thanks to President Biden’s commitment to lowering costs, creating more jobs, and providing every worker with an opportunity to join a union in their workplace. 

It’s been a big week for workers. First, a new National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) ruling made it a lot harder for employers to union-bust by intimidating, threatening, and misleading workers with misinformation about the benefits of unions. For decades, the deck has been stacked against workers who want to organize to negotiate their wages and benefits on the job because of antiquated labor laws that made organizing unions nearly impossible and gave employers license to violate workers’ rights.

In a historic move, this week the NLRB announced a new framework for worker rights that will enable workers to form unions through a more simple process if they can show majority support. The new rules stop bosses from obstructing free and fair union elections to gain representation on the job, which they do routinely and without penalty in order to stop workers from gaining rights at work. Legal recognition for a union is a critical step to improving wages and working conditions: it gives workers the right to bargain a contract that often results in better treatment, higher pay, and more affordable healthcare. 

More affordable healthcare is a leading reason why many workers form and join unions. Health care premiums are rising and basic costs–like the price of prescription drugs–are increasing faster than inflation. Millions of average working Americans can’t afford the health care they need even though they have insurance at work.

But the Biden Administration is making progress on that front too. Last week President Biden announced the first ten prescription drugs that, for the first time, will have lower prices through Medicare negotiations. Retirees and people with disabilities will finally be able to get some of the most expensive and widely used prescriptions in Medicare at a reasonable price they can afford thanks to the new law that enables Medicare to negotiate and lowers out of pocket costs on everything from insulin to cancer drugs. Working Americans who pay taxes to fund Medicare will save tens of billions over the next decade thanks to price negotiations.

Medicare negotiation to lower prices is also great news for seniors who, after a lifetime of work, should not have to ration medicine, go into debt or for other basic needs to afford medicines. 

But older Americans aren’t the only ones struggling: millions of people under age 65 who have private insurance are also struggling with drug prices and need relief. That’s why even as we implement drug pricing improvements in Medicare, we are working with key leaders like Congressman Pallone of New Jersey to expand these cost-cutting reforms to private insurance plans as well.

Meanwhile, the nation’s biggest drug corporations who have reaped billions in profit from decades of price-gouging are fighting to stop lower prices. A new analysis from Accountable.US found that the Pharma companies that are suing Medicare to stop Medicare negotiations (Merck, AstraZeneca, Novo Nordisk, Bristol Myers Squibb, AMGEN, Novartis, and Janssen) boasted $38.7 billion in profits in 2022 alone.

But no matter how hard the drug corporations and their Republican allies in Congress try to stop lower drug prices, seniors, people with disabilities, and working Americans will fight back harder so everyone can have lower drug prices. We have no choice: unless we tackle the drug corporations’ monopoly power to price-gouge, prescription drug costs will eat up more and more of our paychecks and our health premium dollars. People of all ages need access to affordable medicines. 

On Labor Day, people will come together to honor the myriad contributions American workers make to every facet of our lives. As we take a moment to celebrate the victories of the last year, we’re ready to keep fighting for even more – because no one, no matter their insurance plan, zip code, or age, should have to worry whether they can afford the medication they need.

On the Inflation Reduction Act’s First Anniversary, Celebrate Progress as We Countdown to Lower Drug Costs

By Amanda Swanson Blog, Lower Drug Prices

On August 16, 2022, President Joe Biden signed the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA) into law. In addition to historic measures on tax fairness and climate change, the IRA made major improvements to the Medicare program: capping insulin costs at $35/month, making recommended vaccines free for seniors, instituting a $2,000 annual out-of-pocket prescription cost cap, forcing Big Pharma to pay a fine if they raise the price of medication faster than the rate of inflation, and finally enabling Medicare to negotiate directly for lower drug prices. 

The new law is already saving millions of dollars in Medicare and lowering costs for seniors and people with disabilities who have struggled with affordability on everything from insulin to cancer drugs. Once it’s fully implemented, the law’s centerpiece, Medicare negotiations, will save 5 to 7 million seniors money on some of the most expensive medicines covered under Medicare. 

Not only is this progress on prescription affordability worthy of celebration, it’s also ripe for expansion. Medicare is the nation’s largest purchaser of prescriptions, but by no means are Medicare patients alone in struggling to afford prescription medicines. In fact, people of all ages have to ration, skip doses, go into debt or forgo other necessities to afford drugs because the drug corporations have monopoly power to set prices and raise them anytime. We need a national solution that addresses the fact that Americans pay two to three times more than people in other countries for the same medicines.

Yet, while some lawmakers in Congress are forging forward to build on the success of the Inflation Reduction Act, all too many are trying to repeal or roll back the new law before it’s even implemented. NJ Congressman Frank Pallone, a key architect of the original reforms that were included in the IRA has already filed a new bill to expand negotiations, the insulin cap and accountability for drug corporation price gouging in the 118th Congress. If passed, that bill could lower costs for millions more people in Medicare and for hundreds of billions with private coverage who don’t yet qualify for Medicare. 

Pallone’s leadership stands in stark contrast to some of his colleagues in the US House of Representatives who are actively trying to repeal the modest reforms in the existing law just one year after its passage. Led by Tennessee Republican Andrew Ogles, 23 GOP Members of the House are pushing a bill to repeal the law as their allies in Big Pharma file lawsuits to overturn Medicare negotiations. Johnson & Johnson, Astellas, Bristol Myers Squibb, and Merck joined the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and industry lobby group PhRMA to sue Medicare in an attempt to block their new negotiating power. 

This comes as no surprise given the massive profits that drug corporations have made by exercising monopoly power over prices.. According to new reporting from AARP, the 25 drugs responsible for the highest Medicare Part D spending have nearly tripled in price since their introduction. In 2021, the program paid nearly $81 billion on these medications alone, some of which are relied upon by millions of patients. Bristol Myers Squibb’s Eliquis, for example, a blood thinner prescribed to more than 3 million Americans, has increased in price by 124% since it was first introduced. Given the profit to be made off of drugs like Eliquis, Big Pharma is working overtime to hold onto their monopoly price-setting power.

One year after its signing, seniors and people with disabilities who get their health coverage through Medicare are seeing the benefits of the Inflation Reduction Act. Insulin costs, which have historically been prohibitive for so many patients, are capped at $35 per month, making pharmacy trips far cheaper for millions. More than 3.4 million people will benefit from the law’s free vaccine provision, meaning better health overall. 

Experts predict that Medicare negotiations will make medicines more affordable for 5-7 million seniors across the country and save taxpayers $237 million over 10 years. The Inflation Reduction Act’s redesign of Medicare Part D, including the $2,000 out-of-pocket cap, is expected to lower out-of-pocket spending by about $7.4 billion annually among more than 18.7 million enrollees (36 percent of Part D enrollees) in 2025. That’s a savings of nearly $400 per person. 

Today, we celebrate the historic progress of the IRA while at the same calling out Big Pharma’s attempts to protect their profits and shining a spotlight on their allies in Congress who support keeping prices high. We’re on a Countdown to Lower Drug Costs as we push for full implementation of the law that will finally make medicines more affordable for millions of Medicare patients who have already waited too long.

On the Anniversary of Medicare and Medicaid, We’re Counting Down to Lower Drug Costs

By Amanda Swanson Blog, Lower Drug Prices

On July 30th, 1965, President Lyndon B. Johnson signed Medicare into law, creating the nation’s most beloved healthcare program, which provides care to 66 million seniors and people with disabilities. Over the years more improvements have been made to the program to increase access and affordability for enrollees, including the Inflation Reduction Act of 2022 (IRA), which made long-overdue improvements to prescription drug benefits in Medicare. 

Under this new law, seniors, people with disabilities, and their families will save millions on the cost of prescription medicines thanks to common-sense reforms that Big Pharma companies have fought against for decades. These reforms include allowing Medicare to negotiate lower prescription drug prices, capping the cost of insulin at $35, creating the first-ever out-of-pocket cost cap on Part D medicines, making recommended vaccines free for Medicare beneficiaries, and requiring prescription drug companies to pay rebates to Medicare if they raise their prices faster than the rate of inflation. Some parts of the law have already been implemented and some will be implemented over the next several years.

These improvements in Medicare will save taxpayers over $98 billion over the next ten years and make medicines more affordable for millions of seniors who have struggled to afford everything from insulin to cancer drugs. The new law stops drug-corporations from using their monopoly power to price gouge,which inflates their profits at our expense. 

But drug corporations won’t give up their power easily. Big Pharma corporations, industry lobbyists, and Republican allies in Congress are fighting tooth and nail to halt these new reforms and allow Pharma companies to retain their monopoly price-setting power.

 And it’s no wonder why: Eli Lilly, Johnson & Johnson, Merck, AbbVie and Pfizer, the 5 largest Pharma companies by market cap, reported combined earnings of $81.9 billion last year – an $8 billion increase from 2021. Two of those companies (Merck and Johnson & Johnson) have joined fellow Pharma corporations Bristol-Myers Squibb and Astellas, as well as the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the industry lobby group the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America (PhRMA) to sue Medicare in an effort to stop negotiations for lower prices before they even start. 

These lawsuits are outrageous, Americans pay more than 2.5 times more for some brand-name drugs than people in 32 other comparable countries. Aging Americans and people with disabilities and chronic health conditions bear the brunt of these excessive prices. No one should have to go into debt, go without life-saving medicines, or choose between prescriptions and other basic needs like groceries and rent. Yet millions across this nation do. 

We know that the Inflation Reduction Act is already helping people and will only do more in the coming years. A new report shows that 3.4 million people with Medicare would have saved $234 million in out-of-pocket costs in 2021 on vaccines–or about $70 per person if this law had been in place in 2021. Diabetics in Medicare who use insulin would have saved about $500 a year on insulin last year if the law had been in place. Medicare recipients have these savings and much more to look forward to as the law is implemented piece by piece between now and 2026. 

And we’re just getting started: on September 1, Medicare will announce the first ten prescription drugs that will have negotiated prices for the first time, a historic event that will ultimately benefit millions of Medicare enrollees. The Biden Administration is working hard to implement the Medicare negotiations and Democrats in Congress have already introduced a new bill to expand the number of drugs that can lower prices through negotiations and to stop drug corporations from raising prices for people with private coverage faster than inflation.

It’s up to advocates, impacted people, families, providers and others to stop the opponents of lowering drug prices through Medicare negotiations from taking away long-overdue lower prices that will enable millions more people to get the medicines they need. We can’t let them turn back the clock on progress.

Let the countdown to lower drug costs begin!

Assault on Abortion Rights Hurts Health Care Access for Everyone

By Amanda Swanson Blog, Reproductive Healthcare

It’s now been one year since the Supreme Court’s Dobbs decision ended Constitutional abortion rights for millions of people in America, taking away a legal protection that was in place for nearly 50 years. In just over a year, more than 73 million Americans have been stripped of abortion access thanks to abortion bans and restrictions that have been enacted in 14 states. The aftermath of this extreme decision is manifesting across the country. 

But anti-abortion crusaders have made it clear that they have no intention of stopping at state abortion bans. In fact, the anti-abortion extremists are working on taking access from even more patients by once again leveraging the courts to overturn past precedence. Right now, the Fifth Circuit Court is considering revoking the FDA approval of Mifepristone, one of two drugs used in medication abortion, after anti-abortion extremists in Texas challenged its approval even though the drug has been in use for decade and despite the fact that medication abortion is the safest form of abortion and widely used in both the United States and the world. 

The anti-abortion onslaught shows no signs of slowing even though two thirds of Americans continue to support legal, safe abortion in most cases and few people support total bans.

Most recently, a new ban has passed in Iowa. Governor Kim Reynolds called a marathon one-day special session wherein both bodies of the Iowa Legislature met to approve legislation that would ban abortion care in the state after 6 weeks. This was despite the fact that in March, a Des Moines Register/Mediacom Iowa Poll found that “61% of Iowans say abortion should be legal in all or most cases, while 35% say abortion should be illegal in all or most cases.” Clearly, this rush to pass an abortion ban was done so the people of Iowa would not have time to weigh in. Amy Bingaman, a Broadlawn OB-GYN, said that passing this law will mean Iowa “will lose well-qualified providers from our community…Take away our ability to practice full-spectrum health care, and providers will choose to practice in another state, and many will leave Iowa.”

It’s becoming more common for patients and providers to flee increasingly common anti-abortion laws as doctors and medical students elsewhere to work or train because of the potential collateral consequences of providing services to people either exploring abortion or actively seeking it. Abortion restrictions have broad health care impacts beyond denying some people abortion. In fact, millions more people may face reduced access because of bans that close clinics and drive providers away. After the closure of the only maternity ward in Bonner County, Idaho, for example, expectant mothers will be forced to drive 45 minutes to give birth in the next closest hospital.

The impact of abortion bans will be worse in rural states where there are already significant challenges in accessing healthcare due to distance, poverty, and limited provider availability. Patients in emergency situations are forced to the brink of death before a doctor can legally intervene. Mothers may even be forced to watch their babies die from severe birth defects after being denied abortions.

Yet, despite these consequences, many of the most extreme abortion opponents are forging recklessly ahead to curtail access for as many people as possible. Just last week, Congressional Republicans voted for the National Defense Authorization Act, the annual bill that provides funding to the Department of Defense (DOD), with the inclusion of a new abortion restriction that makes abortion access harder for military personnel and that also restricts care for transgender people in the military.

Senator Tommy Tuberville (R-AL), who championed the anti-abortion measure, has spent months stalling high-profile military nominations in protest of the DOD’s abortion policy. Because of this foot-dragging, the Marine Corps has been left without a Congressionally-appointed commandant for the first time in 164 years. This is yet another example of how abortion restrictions hurt many people beyond those who may be seeking abortions. 

The truth is that every American has a stake in protecting access to abortion access and in stopping attacks on reproductive freedom that spill into the healthcare system more broadly. Whether it’s reducing access to birth control, outlawing medicines that are used for a variety of reasons in the healthcare system, threatening doctors and providers with criminal consequences, or forcing people to move out of state to seek all kinds of basic care, the attack on abortion rights hurts everyone.

There’s No Freedom Without Access to Health Care and Affordable Medicines

By Amanda Swanson Affordable Healthcare, Blog, Lower Drug Prices

On the Fourth of July, Americans across the country will come together to have a meal, enjoy fireworks displays, and celebrate our country. But though there’s much progress to celebrate, a lot depends on protecting that progress from attacks in Congress, legislatures, and the courts.

In the last year, we’ve made tremendous progress and seen the passage of legislation that benefits millions of average Americans. The Inflation Reduction Act (IRA), which became law in August of 2022, finally enabled Medicare to negotiate for lower prescription drug prices, capped the price of insulin for seniors at $35 a month, stopped drug corporations from jacking up prices faster than inflation in Medicare, and saved millions of people money on their ACA premiums. The law also took a huge step towards a better tax code with a corporate minimum tax and increased tax enforcement for rich households making over $400,000 a year.

But even as these victories make life better for working families, putting money back in their pockets and easing the stress of trips to the pharmacy or doctors office, some lawmakers are pressing to repeal them, joining with drug corporations to stop lower drug prices and trying to divert money from policies that benefit us toward more tax giveaways to the rich and corporations.

Since taking office, the House GOP majority has been fighting tooth and nail against the IRA’s improvements to the tax code, filing bills to repeal the law and introducing new bills to implement even more tax cuts for the ultra-rich and corporations. Their latest proposal would roll back last year’s law to help families transition to clean energy and buy electric cars in order to fund tax breaks that primarily benefit the richest 20% of households and foreign investors. And that’s not all: their tax giveaway package would enable wealthy families making over $400,000 annually to keep avoiding taxes rather than paying what they owe. That bill would add $1 trillion to the deficit even as Republicans are proposing cuts to Medicare and Social Security and sounding alarm about that same deficit.

Just last week, Senator Mike Lee (R-UT) introduced a bill aimed at repealing prescription drug provisions of the IRA, a move that would strip Medicare of its new ability to negotiate for lower prescription drug prices. This isn’t Senator Lee’s first time attacking provisions that lower drug prices – he introduced a similar piece of legislation just last year – but his intended impact is just the same: allowing Big Pharma corporations to hold on to monopoly price-setting power that makes trips to the pharmacy far too expensive for many Americans. It’s clear which side Senator Lee is on when it comes to affordable prescriptions, and it’s not ours.

Prescription drug corporations will be big beneficiaries if Republicans pass their big tax bill. They will even receive retroactive tax breaks after already seeing massive reductions in their tax bills thanks to the Trump tax law of 2017, which reduced corporate taxes from 35% to 21%. Most large corporations now pay lower tax rates than middle class families even when they rake in record profits as many have done during the pandemic.

Drug corporations, which for decades have been the most profitable sector in the country, are especially egregious in their price-gouging and profiteering off the public’s tax dollars. In addition to getting massive tax breaks for everything from their advertising on TV to their massive CEO salaries, drug corporations benefit from huge investments of taxpayer dollars in research and development that the federal government makes to discover new medicines. 

A new report from the Congressional HELP (Health, Education, Labor and Pensions) Committee shows how drug corporations used federally funded research to develop products they then sell back to taxpayers at exorbitant prices. The average price of new treatments that NIH (National Institutes of Health) scientists funded by taxpayers helped invent over the past twenty years is $111,000. Drug corporations pocket the profits while millions struggle to get medicines and taxpayers get little return on their investment.

Medicare negotiations could lower these prices, at least on some drugs in Medicare, but the drug corporations are joining with Republicans in Congress to fight the new law that requires them to negotiate, filing lawsuits to keep the law from implementation. Last week PhRMA, the drug lobby group, joined Merck, the Chamber of Commerce, and Bristol Myers Squibb, in filing lawsuits to stop the Medicare negotiations law. 

As we celebrate independence this 4th of July, let’s keep in mind that life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness are not achievable if people can’t get their basic needs met. Access to healthcare and affordable medicines should be a top priority for everyone who values freedom. Going without medicine that taxpayers paid to develop because drug corporations have the power to determine prices unilaterally is fundamentally un-American. 

It’s up to all of us to ensure that Americans get affordable healthcare they can count on, that they pay a fair negotiated price for medicines they need to be healthy, and that we end the two-tiered tax system where the wealthy continue to prosper at the expense of everyone else.  

On the Heels of the Default Crisis, the House GOP is Pushing to Cut Taxes for the Rich and Corporations

By Amanda Swanson Blog, Tax Fairness

It’s only two weeks since Republicans narrowly avoided a national default crisis by passing the Fiscal Responsibility Act, and they are already doing all they can to back away from any semblance of fiscal restraint. Instead, the House GOP is opting to go full speed ahead with their tax giveaway agenda for the rich and corporations while they keep insisting that Congress must cut spending on healthcare, education, nutrition and public safety. 

This week, they are advancing their American Families and Jobs Act, which does anything but benefit families or create better jobs. The package is a buffet of bad tax ideas that incudes everything from retroactive tax breaks for big corporations to souped up loopholes that will enable the super wealthy to hold onto more of their money instead of paying their fair share of taxes like the rest of us. The richest 20% of households and foreign investors will be the big winners if this legislation becomes law. The top 1 percent alone would receive $28.4 billion in tax breaks. Meanwhile, the rest of us will get big cuts in services and benefits that affect housing, schools, energy costs, and much more. 

Corporations, including price-gouging prescription drug corporations, oil and gas firms, manufacturers, and online retailers who made record profits during the pandemic already got a huge reduction in their taxes under the 2017 Trump tax law. They would also see big rewards under this proposal which doubles down on loopholes and incentives that encourage corporations to move jobs, profits, and resources outside the United States. 

These tax breaks and loopholes for the rich and corporations aren’t free: they’ll cost the rest of us. 

Currently, the GOP proposes to offset the cost of these lavish giveaways by rolling back tax credits that passed last year to help families switch to climate friendly energy sources like wind or solar and to purchase electric vehicles that cut down on pollution and reduce reliance on gas. 

Ironically, Republicans introduced their bills on a day when the smoke from Canadian wildfires was creating hazardous conditions for millions in the United States. Every year, we are more and more at the mercy of episodic climate disasters like virulent hurricanes, tornadoes, extreme heat, wildfires, and unpredictable weather that is driving up food costs and putting housing at risk. Although climate change has terrible consequences for health outcomes, Republicans are proposing to both roll back clean energy resources and to cut healthcare–all so they can double down on tax breaks for the rich. 

Making this package permanent would cost $1 trillion over the next ten years. That $1 trillion is partially on top of the $3.5 trillion cost of extending the Trump cuts which is the ultimate goal for the GOP. Together, the combined cost for the GOP’s tax breaks for the rich agenda could be over $4 trillion—all heavily tilted toward the ultra-wealthy, billion-dollar corporations, and foreign investors.

More money for the rich takes money from services that help everyone else. 

Over a million people have already been dropped from Medicaid this year and millions more are expected to also lose coverage, but the current GOP leaders in Congress are oblivious as they scheme to give their wealthy donors more tax breaks. Nor are they worried about the growing hunger that millions of families face as they have lost food stamps at a time when the price of food has continued to escalate. For instance, egg prices have increased 70% in the last year and that’s just the tip of the iceberg. The cost of everything from housing to prescription medicines continues to rise while Republicans in charge of the U.S. House of Representatives continue to press for more cuts in services that help people make ends meet. 

Constituents everywhere should contact their lawmakers as soon as possible and urge them to reject this legislation that takes us all backward to give a boost to the people who least need it–America’s richest households and Wall Street corporations raking in big profits. Instead of increasing the deficit and draining the budget to provide big giveaways to the wealthy, Congress should be taxing the rich and corporations fairly so that they contribute to investments in education, health, safety and nutrition and that create opportunity for everyone to prosper.

Debt Default Bill Rewards Tax Cheats, Cuts Services for Working Families

By Amanda Swanson Blog, Protecting the Pillars, Tax Fairness

The United States, the richest nation in the world, came to the brink of default last week as a game of political chicken forced a deal that cut nutrition, housing, and other services while rolling back tax enforcement for the nation’s richest tax cheats. Thanks to the upside down priorities of Republicans in Congress, many wealthy households making over $400,000 per year will keep getting away with paying lower tax rates than working people struggling to make ends as inflation continues to soar, raising costs on everything from food to medicine. 

While the Fiscal Responsibility Act averted the economic chaos and tremendous harm that would have come with default, it nonetheless inflicts damage that affects the long term health and economic security of millions of Americans. 

That’s because the deal makes cuts to discretionary programs like nutrition, housing, public safety and education by capping spending so that these programs will not keep up with needs or the usual growth rate of the federal budget. Capping spending amounts to cuts in services which have already endured over a decade of underinvestment. The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities estimates that, in fact,  many of these discretionary domestic programs are already funded at 10 percent below 2010 levels when adjusted for inflation and increases in the US population. Past spending caps have led to underfunded services and shortages for basic services like childcare, housing assistance, safety inspections and many other services. Under the Fiscal Responsibility Act, more cuts will occur that deny people services they need especially in today’s high inflation context when everything costs more. 

Although most recipients already work, under the new law, Republicans insisted on increased work requirements to qualify for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, commonly known as food stamps) as well as for Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF, or cash welfare). The changes in SNAP target adults without dependents. Currently, childless adults between the ages of 18 and 49 who do not have a disability are generally required to work or volunteer for 80 hours a month. If they fail to do so, they will only qualify to receive SNAP benefits for a maximum of three months over a three-year period. The debt ceiling deal targets older people by expanding the age range for these rules to apply to 50- to 54-year-olds, though it  also now includes new exemptions from work requirements for homeless people, veterans, and people aging out of the foster care system.

Although the Republicans’ intent in imposing more work requirements is to cut people from the program and reduce the deficit, the bill’s CBO (Congressional Budget Office) score shows that these changes will cost more money, not less, while at the same time adding 78,000 more people to SNAP. Meanwhile, these new hurdles will not actually result in more people working.

President Biden has repeatedly proposed to raise taxes on the rich and corporations in order to address the rising deficit, particularly since it is decades of tax breaks and handouts for the rich and corporations, which have added more than $10 trillion to the debt and are responsible for 57% of the increase in the debt as a share of the national economy. The GOP resoundingly rejected President Biden’s proposal to raise new revenue by closing tax loopholes despite the fact that many wealthy households pay lower tax rates than middle-class workers and that corporations are raking in record-shattering profits while paying lower tax rates than a decade ago.  The GOP refusal to make the wealthy and big corporations pay what they owe in taxes contradicts their insistence on “fiscal responsibility.” 

The truth is, that if Congress can afford more tax breaks for the rich and corporations, then it can also afford to help provide food, education and housing for low income and working poor families who cannot keep up with the rising price of food, rent and other services. 

Nurses, teachers, and firefighters are paying their fair share – we need the wealthiest people and corporations in the country to do the same, and the American people agree. According to a Navigator Survey, most of those polled would prefer to reduce the deficit by raising taxes on billionaires and corporations rather than cutting specific programs. Now that the threat of default is behind us (for another two years, at least) we have work to do to take the plurality of support for taxing the ultra-rich and making it into a reality.

Make no mistake: our economy is better off for having avoided default. Social Security and veterans’ benefits checks will keep going out, retirement accounts will remain intact, and Medicare and Medicaid patients will be able to see their doctors as normal. But even as we breathe a sigh of relief, the GOP continues to push for tax policies that divert more money to the richest households at the expense of everyone else.

It’s clear that the GOP’s idea of “fiscal responsibility” has less to do with actual responsibility than it does with protecting the interests of their wealthy donors. Common sense dictates that if Congress can afford to let wealthy tax cheats get away without paying what they owe and can protect tax loopholes that reward corporations who avoid paying their fair share of taxes, they can also afford investments in healthcare, nutrition, housing, and other basic services that help working families afford the basics.

Rising Food Costs and Cuts to Nutrition Assistance Loom Over the Memorial Day BBQ

By Amanda Swanson Blog, Protecting the Pillars, Tax Fairness

Many families will honor fallen soldiers of the past as they gather this Memorial Day. It’s an opportunity to enjoy the long-awaited summer weather over a long-weekend of picnics, grill outs, BBQs and related activities.

But this year, many families will find those same activities hard to afford because of recent cuts to SNAP benefits that accompanied the end of the pandemic and rising food prices on everything from eggs to meat. Congress could make things worse with the current negotiations on a default deal that threatens to cut key nutrition programs like Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), Meals On Wheels, and the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) that help millions get access to the food they need for themselves and their families. Federal cuts to food and nutrition programs will force people to pay more for the food they need out-of-pocket at a time when food is historically expensive and millions do not have the resources to keep up with the rising costs of all the basics: food, housing, healthcare and transportation.

No one disagrees that the price of food is rising–both here and abroad. While food prices generally increased about 2% in prior years, they increased about 11% from 2021 to 2022. Inflation was a contributing factor, but other issues like the price of transportation, supply chain disruptions, workforce shortages, and climate changes that impact producers ability to keep up with demand were also to blame. Some of these problems will continue to persist for some time, keeping prices high. In 2022, food prices increased by a whopping 9.9%, and are expected to rise by another 6.2% in 2023

Rising food costs are easier to absorb for upper income families than they are for low-wage workers or low- and fixed-income populations like seniors and people with disabilities. For people who earn less, rising food prices forces them to use a greater share of their income for food while squeezing out other basics like housing, healthcare, transportation. Nearly a quarter of adults don’t get enough food to eat consistently, impacting their long-term health and well-being.

Despite growing need for access to nutritious food, more than 30 states cut their food stamp benefits in March due to the expiration of a pandemic program to provide more funding for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program. Millions more people are turning to charity programs like soup kitchens and food shelves for their meals and the number will only increase as Republicans in Congress continue to push for even more cuts. 

The GOP’s budget proposal includes deep across the board cuts to many programs, but SNAP is a key target. According to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities “altogether more than 10 million people, about 1 in 4 SNAP participants, live in households that would be at risk of losing food assistance benefits” under the Republican plan. At the same time, that same plan would let wealthy households making over $400,000 off the hook for paying their taxes by rolling back tax enforcement on the rich so that they don’t have to pay what they owe.

It’s a travesty to be making the rich richer while at the same time cutting benefits and increasing costs for working and middle class families that are already struggling to make ends meet because of factors beyond their control. 

The price of eggs and meat products alone are expected to rise by 16.6% and 8.8%, respectively, this year. The  loss of supplemental nutrition assistance in the midst of rising food prices will put even barbeque classics like hot dogs and potato salad out of reach for many Americans. Even basic bakery items like hamburger buns are projected to increase in price by nearly 10%. Add to the situation that  wages are not keeping up with these escalating costs and lawmakers in Congress are refusing to prioritize policies that ensure everyone can afford the basics–that doesn’t give us much to celebrate and it’s certainly not the American way of life that millions of brave soldiers lost their lives to defend. 

The truth is, we can do better. Costs are rising, but the United States is still a wealthy nation where affordable food, housing, and health care can be guaranteed for all if Republicans were to put the needs of their constituents ahead of their wealthy donors. After all, if the federal government can afford $3 trillion more in tax breaks for the wealthy, then it should be able to afford food, housing and healthcare for the rest of us. 

Manufacturing a default crisis as a pretext for cutting services and benefits that average people benefit from and often need to get by is no way to honor the nation’s fallen veterans and no way to govern our country. Common sense dictates that the rich and corporations should pay a fairer share of taxes to reduce the deficit rather than forcing working families to go hungry.  

We deserve policies that honor our veterans’ sacrifices and that ensures a secure and prosperous future for millions of Americans–and that is within our reach. It’s time for the GOP to stop playing partisan games and negotiate a fair deal that preserves the benefits and services hungry Americans need rather than continuing to give millionaires and billionaires big breaks at the expense of working families. 

Smallest state takes on big healthcare hurdles

By Amanda Swanson Affordable Healthcare, Blog, Reproductive Healthcare, Tax Fairness

Bad news about health care, especially abortion, abounds these days. Just this week, abortion bans passed in two more states – North Carolina and Montana – leaving thousands of people with fewer options when it comes to family planning. But bad healthcare news isn’t limited to abortion, there’s much more happening.

Millions of people are slated to lose Medicaid coverage over the coming months because of the expiration of the Public Health Emergency on May 11th, which triggered a re-authorization frenzy among states that are eager to shrink their Medicaid rolls from historic highs even though it means many more people won’t have access to the basic preventive care that would enable them to prevent pregnancy, have healthier pregnancies, and be better equipped to care for themselves and their children.

While many states and Congress may be headed in the wrong direction on health coverage, reproductive health services like abortion and economic policies that benefit real people, Rhode Island lawmakers are clearly taking a different direction. In the statehouse, they are boldly insisting on increasing access to safe abortion for everyone who needs it. And, in Congress, they are opposing Republican proposals to cut critical services and give more tax breaks to the rich.

Rhode Island’s elected leaders at every level are fighting to lower costs, increase access, and make the system more fair for all.

Senator Sheldon Whitehouse, one of the states’ U.S. Senators, put the super wealthy and large corporations in the spotlight for the billions in tax breaks they have received over the last decade at a hearing that described how these tax giveaways contribute to the national debt. Republicans in Congress are now using the skyrocketing debt as their chief excuse to demand cuts to Medicaid, education, public safety and many other programs even as they lobby for even more tax breaks. According to a new report from the Congressional Budget Office (CBO), extending the Trump tax cuts, which primarily benefit the ultra-rich and foreign investors, would add $3.5 trillion to the national debt over the next ten years.

In Rhode Island’s State House, local lawmakers led a successful push to finally make access to abortion more fair and equitable for everyone who needs it. This week, the Senate Judiciary committee passed the Equity in Abortion Coverage Act (EACA) which would allow Medicaid enrollees and Rhode Island state employees to have the same coverage for abortion care as people with private plans. Access to abortion is a key linchpin of economic security and positive health outcomes. Research shows that when people are denied or impeded from getting the services they need, they and their families suffer the health and economic consequences for many years.

HCANEF’s state partner The Womxn Project, played a central role in passing this legislation which they have worked on since 2019 finally winning over the Senate President after initial opposition, saying: “I view this legislation as a simple insurance equity measure.” The Womxn Project and their allies succeeded after they successfully helped leaders in the state understand that abortion care is health care and must not be siloed away.

Governor Daniel McKee, who signed the bill immediately, has also come to understand abortion as healthcare and to recognize that access to a full range of healthcare services is critical for everyone in his state. Equitable coverage for abortion services is an even more tremendous victory given than Rhode Island is the most Catholic state in the country.

Rhode Island’s state motto is Hope, and state lawmakers take it seriously, advancing policy at every level that supports a more equitable, just, and fair economy with meaningful access to the healthcare and public services that give everyone the freedom to lead their own lives and that reject antiquated trickle-down policies to keep the rich richer while everyone else struggles with access to the basics. This week’s lawmaker-led victories are evidence that bolsters our hope that things can indeed get better for real people when lawmakers put their constituents ahead of their politics.

For Veterans, McCarthy’s Debt Default Plan is a Slap in the Face

By Amanda Swanson Affordable Healthcare, Blog, Protecting the Pillars

By June 1st, the United States will no longer be able to pay all of its bills on time unless Democrats and Republicans agree on a deal to raise the borrowing limit. This isn’t the first time we’ve needed to lift the ceiling and it’s not likely to be the last, but never has so much been at stake nor the negotiations been so dangerous for our country. 

Rather than raise the debt ceiling as Congress has done over 70 times in the last 50 years, GOP House Speaker Kevin McCarthy and the current GOP majority want to use the default deadline to make huge cuts to programs and services millions of people depend on as part of a trade to avert defaulting on debts. In fact, the Republicans have already passed their own partisan bill that cuts everything from Medicaid, public safety, and housing to payments for Medicare providers while at the same time rolling back tax enforcement for wealthy households making more than $400,000 annually.

That’s right: the Republicans are insisting cuts for working families in the same bill that enables rich people to keep avoiding making tax payments they owe and they are threatening to force a national default on debt if they don’t get their way. The Republican plan would take healthcare, education, nutrition assistance and housing from millions of people of all ages, but veterans in particular would see huge impacts in their daily lives. 

McCarthy’s plan includes a 22% cut to the Veterans Administration, a move the White House has called the largest cut to veterans benefits in American history. Not only would slashing funding result in the loss of more than 81,000 jobs throughout the entire VA system but it would also result in millions of missed doctors appointments and worse health for veterans overall even though veterans tend to have higher rates of chronic disease, injury and mental illness than the civilian population.

But it’s more than just VA cuts that will impact the day-to-day life of millions of veterans. The House GOP’s plan also includes massive cuts to nutrition programs like SNAP and Meals on Wheels, both of which benefit veterans nationwide. In fact, 1.2 million veterans rely on SNAP assistance for their groceries – that’s 1.2 million veterans who could see their food budgets slashed, all to protect tax breaks for billionaires already paying lower tax rates than veterans and active duty military personnel.

It doesn’t stop there. Around 9% of veterans get their healthcare coverage through Medicaid, another program on the House GOP’s chopping block. While Speaker McCarthy claims that instituting more stringent work requirements is beneficial, it could strip healthcare access from vulnerable vets, many of whom have multifaceted health needs and disabilities. People who have served our country shouldn’t worry whether or not they can make it through the red tape to get the care they need. 

Speaker McCarthy is playing politics with our country’s future. If he and Republicans in Congress succeed, the United States will, for the first time, fail to pay America’s bills on time in a default that will create economic chaos and have global impact. 

The rest of us will pay the price, including millions of veterans who have already sacrificed to protect our security and way of life. The 16.5 million veterans living in the U.S. would see cuts to their health care under the Congressional Republican proposal. But default would create even more immediate consequences: timely disability payments, pensions, survivor benefits that people depend on could be delayed or not issued. Paychecks for the 1.4 million active-duty members could also be delayed or not paid.

If Republicans force a default it could delay Social Security and Medicare payments, harming seniors who have earned it and are counting on it. It will increase costs for working people by driving up interest rates on items like credit cards, car loans, and mortgage rates at the same time families are struggling with high prices. Even if it just lasted a few weeks, it could cause a recession that could result in the loss of nearly six million jobs, the unemployment rate could double and it could wipe out $12 trillion in household wealth.

Historically, both Republicans and Democrats worked together to address increases needed in the debt limit so that our country can continue to pay its bills and we can avoid a default, which hurts everyone–no matter which Party they belong to–and which can hasten recession, economic instability, and financial harm. Elected leaders of both parties should do the same now: pass a deal that averts default, does no harm, and allows our country to continue paying its bills and providing for our people.