Bredesen Touts Drug Plan, Promises Moderate Approach

In an interview Monday at the Times-Gazette offices, former governor and Democratic U.S. Senate candidate Phil Bredesen discussed his proposed prescription plan and how it compares to a similar plan proposed by President Trump.

There are a number of medications for which the price paid by U.S. patients is several times the price paid in other developed nations like Germany or France.

For example, in 2015 Bloomberg News reported that the cholesterol-lowering pill Crestor had a list price of $216 but was available at a discount for $86 to some consumers. But in Germany, the drug cost only $40; in Canada, $32; and in France it was only $20.

Cutting costs

Bredesen said that high prescription costs hit hard for consumers without health insurance (in states like Tennessee that haven't agreed to Medicaid expansion) or for consumers with high-deductible insurance plans that require them to pay for most prescriptions out-of-pocket.

Bredesen's plan would use the U.S. government's status as one of the largest purchaser of prescription drugs, through programs like Medicare. Right now, the government is prohibited by law from negotiating prescription drug prices, a prohibition that President Trump campaigned against. Bredesen's plan would remove that prohibition and insist on "most-favored-nation" status for the U.S. -- the U.S. wouldn't pay more for a drug than any other developed nation. That would originally apply to drugs purchased by the U.S. government, but could be leveraged to reduce costs paid by individual consumers as well, said Bredesen.

Bredesen praised President Trump as "an expert negotiator" and said Trump could build a bipartisan coalition around the idea of lower prescription prices.

Competing plan

Trump has announced his own plan to lower drug prices in comparison to other developed nations, but the Trump plan would apply primarily to drugs administered at a doctor's office or hospital, not drugs purchased at a pharmacy. Bredesen said his plan would apply to pharmacy drugs as well.

Bredesen said drug company objections to such a plan are that they need the money to pay for research and develop newer and better drugs. But Bredesen said that if that is the case, other developed nations should share in that cost through a more-equitable pricing structure. Bredesen said his plan wouldn't restrict the free market, because drug companies would still determine what to charge, but it would simply insist that the U.S. price be similar to prices in other countries.

"I think it's got some legs," said Bredesen of his proposal.

Bredesen mentioned Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell's remarks about the need to cut entitlement programs due to changing demographics, and said cutting prescription costs would be a good way to reduce the Medicare budget without actually reducing benefits.

Attack ads

Bredesen is competing in one of the most-closely-watched U.S. Senate races. The former governor is running against Republican U.S. Rep. Marsha Blackburn, and the race has featured numerous negative campaign ads -- but many of the most negative ads have come not from the candidates themselves, but from political action committees. When you see an ad on TV, it will either end with the candidate saying "I'm [X] and I approve this message" -- those are the ads produced and paid for by the actual campaigns -- or it will end with "[Organization] paid for the content of this ad." Those ads are paid for by political action committees, who are legally prohibited from coordinating their activities with any candidate.

Bredesen said he'd like to see more transparency in who is paying for those unaffiliated ads.

Bredesen has tried to portray himself as a reasonable, moderate Democrat, willing to work with President Trump when it's appropriate. But attack ads have said that Bredesen would be a pawn of Democratic leaders or would help to flip the Senate to Democratic control and thus to more liberal policies.

Moderation

Bredesen said he doesn't think it's "virtually impossible" that the Senate will flip to the Democratic side this year.

"I never thought it was likely," he said. He said that, just from a historical standpoint, control of the Senate will someday shift, just as it has always shifted back and forth between the parties. He said that when the Senate does turn Democratic, Tennesseans would rather have a moderate Democratc in place, just as he said Tennesseans have supported moderate Republicans like Lamar Alexander and Bob Corker.

"My whole history as governor was to be genuinely bipartisan," he said. "I think people remember that .... I was an equal-opportunity offender."

Optimism

Bredesen said he feels "cautiously confident" about his chances in the Nov. 6 election.

He said during the controversy over Brett Kavanaugh's nomination hearings for the Supreme Court, people stayed a little closer to their normal party affiliations, but now that the Kavanaugh controversy has passed, people are more willing to look across the aisle.

"I think it's a very close race," he said.

• In other local news about the statewide campaign, Republican gubernatorial candidate Bill Lee will appear 2:30 p.m. Friday at Republican Campaign Headquarters on Lane Parkway.

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