By SAMANTHA PIDDE
Congresswoman Cheri Bustos visited Mount Carroll late Thursday afternoon, Jan. 2, to review legislative actions of 2019, while looking to the future.
Referencing her "2019 Year in Review," 17th District Cong. Bustos (D-East Moline) said one of the most notable accomplishments was the passing of the Lower Drug Costs Now Act (co-sponsored by Bustos) within the House of Representatives.
She said healthcare and the need for affordable prescription drugs is "literally the first thing" she hears about when speaking to constituents, adding she has heard numerous stories of people receiving prescriptions they cannot afford to fill or trying to ration their insulin to save money.
According to Bustos, prescription drug companies are charging Americans prices that are "three, four or even 10 times higher" than what they charge for the same drugs in other countries. She noted that in this country, insulin costs per patient nearly doubled between 2012 and 2016.
The Lower Drug Costs Now Act bill: gives Medicare the power to negotiate directly with drug companies; makes the lower drug prices negotiated by Medicare available to Americans with private insurance, not just Medicare beneficiaries; "stops drug companies ripping of Americans while charging other countries less for the same drug," limiting the maximum price for any negotiated drug to the average price on countries like ours, where the amount charged for he same drug is less.
Also, the Act creates a new $2,000 out-of-pocket limit on prescription drug costs for Medicare beneficiaries; expands and improves Medicare by reinvesting more than half-a-trillion dollars in savings in new vision, dental and hearing benefits.
Mount Carroll Mayor Carl Bates asked where the half-a-trillion dollars will come from and Bustos explained it will come from the pharmaceutical companies, who she maintained would still see a profit.
The bill has been passed in the House of Representatives, but not the Senate, and Bustos said she is confident it will pass in Senate.
"Literally, I don't know anyone on Medicare that isn't happy with it," Bustos said.
The veteran lawmaker also said the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA) was passed by the House a week before the holidays. Bustos said the trade agreement (which still needs to be voted on in the Senate) will benefit farmers and manufacturers.
"It gives them certainty in a time...that hasn't been very certain for our farmers," Bustos said.
Congresswoman Bustos also gave a brief update on the Administrative United States Penitentiary (AUSP) Thomson (Thomson Prison).
She told Mayor Bates and Carroll County Mirror-Democrat staff that the federal maximum-security prison currently has 364 employees and plans to hire at least another 250 by the end of 2020. Almost 1,000 inmates are currently housed in the prison.
Bustos emphasized the need for housing for the expected increase in prison employees. Bates spoke to her about the ongoing Shimer Square project by the Rock Island Economic Growth Corporation (GROWTH). While Phase 1 will generate one-bedroom and studio apartments, Bates said GROWTH is looking to try to move forward plans for two- and three-bedroom condos.
Bustos also explained the hiring process at the prison has been slow because potential employees must go through a federal hiring process. She said legislators such as herself have requested the process be localized to minimize delays.
She also said she was happy to have joined the Appropriations Committee in 2019. Bustos said this is the "most powerful committee in Congress," allowing her (and the Heartland) a voice in critical federal funding investment.
Bustos spoke briefly on how Democrats may hope to be successful in the 2020 elections.
"I think we have to be hyper-focused on what matters to people," said Bustos, highlighting health insurance, the minimum wage and infrastructure as some of these issues.
"We need to rebuild our country," Bustos said.