OREGON CITY, Ore. (PAMPLIN MEDIA GROUP) — Dozens of health care activists demonstrated outside of U.S. Congressman Kurt Schrader’s Oregon City district office on Wednesday in protest of his recent vote opposing a proposal to lower prescription drug prices.
During the rally, organized primarily by Democratic activist group Indivisible Clackamas District 5 with assistance and participation from a number of community advocates in Clackamas County, including Health Care for All Oregon, the impassioned crowd stood unified in outrage over the decision, with several holding signs accusing Schrader of being swayed by financial incentives from the pharmaceutical industry.
Indivisible CD5 joined its chapters in Lincoln City, Sisters and Roseburg as well as sister organization Act For Democracy in collectively detailing their concerns and demands in a joint letter to Schrader dated Sept. 20.
“We are writing to you to express our collective outrage about your recent vote against the Biden Medicare drug price negotiation plan,” the letter began. “Given your $614,830 in donations from pharmaceutical companies and your fortune inherited from Pfizer, you have a clear conflict of interest.”
“The pharmaceutical industry was your top campaign contributor in your last election cycle with $114,252. You should have voted with the interests of constituents,” the letter continued. “Strong drug price negotiation is overwhelmingly supported by the American public; and that is not your ‘bipartisan’ legislation.”
“We demand that you support all of the provisions of the Biden plan, including taxing the rich. As a multi-millionaire, we recognize that this may not be in your interest, but you were elected to represent us, the hard-working people of Oregon.”
Schrader responded to the sentiments of Indivisible CD5 and others on Thursday via an email sent to Pamplin Media Group.
“Free speech is integral to America’s great representative democracy, and constituents have reached out to me in many ways about the pressing need for Congress to act to lower prescription drug costs,” Schrader wrote.
“My message to them is that I firmly support Medicare drug price negotiations,” he continued. “In fact, I introduced legislation where these negotiations are critical in driving down prices of the most expensive drugs — The Reduced Costs and Continued Cures Act. My bill will also cap out-of-pocket costs for seniors, limit price increases on existing drugs like insulin, and much more. I welcome the open dialogue with my constituents as I work to deliver for Oregon’s 5th Congressional District on this important issue.”
On Sept. 15, one week prior to the rally, Schrader and two other Democrats joined Republicans in voting against the proposal, known as the known as the Build Back Better Act, during a meeting of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, the New York Times reported.
The $3.5 trillion Democratic social policy package, which would allow Medicare to directly negotiate with the pharmaceutical industry, was later approved by different committees — but the Democrats cannot afford to lose even a single vote at crunch time on the proposal, due to united Republican opposition.
At the beginning of Wednesday’s demonstration, participants were directed to call Schrader’s office and recite their demands. Milwaukie Mayor Mark Gamba was among the attendees decrying Schrader’s vote against the proposal, which includes an agenda to mitigate the devastating effects of climate change.
“For 40 years, we’ve known about climate change, we have now reached the point where if we do not make significant — and I’m talking about significant, billions and billions, even trillions of dollars — of investment in stopping climate change, we will not be able to stop it,” Gamba said.
“Schrader, again, is selling out to another one of his big donors — the oil, coal and gas industries — who do not want to see changes, they do not want their bottom line affected and he is selling us down the road,” he continued. “He is selling our grandchildren down the road. He is selling his own grandchildren down the road. What kind of a human being could possibly do that? He must vote for this reconciliation package.”
Portland resident and activist Peter Marks led the protest event by describing the Build Back Better Act as a potentially “unifying” issue within America’s increasingly partisan political climate. Schrader, a co-founder of the bipartisan congressional group the Problem Solver’s Caucus, has publicly emphasized “putting country above party,” but according to Marks, is “failing spectacularly” in his unification efforts.
“We have the unifying issue in front of us — everyone in this country, no matter what your political affiliation, wants to see lower drug prices,” Marks said, explaining that 91% of Schrader’s constituents, including the majority of Democrats, Republicans and Independents support this legislation. “It is the unifying issue that we’ve all been looking for. And yet Kurt Schrader and the Problem Solver’s Caucus are running from it. It’s inexplicable.”
Marks described his own personal experience being nearly priced out of access to thyroid medication for an autoimmune disease he was diagnosed with a decade ago.
“The price doubled… and then tripled… and then it quadrupled,” Marks said, adding he had to switch to a cheaper prescription after consulted his doctor about how to mitigate the financial burden. “This new medication is now almost the same price as my old one when it started. It’s crazy: We have this myth and the pharmaceutical industry needs to exploit and have these wild profit margins in order to innovate, and it’s so far from the truth.”
Further testimonies were provided by several attendees, including Indivisible member Gene Fifield, who explained his personal battle with follicular lymphoma and having to pay a projected tens of thousands of dollars out-of-pocket for treatment for the rest of his life, despite having a Medicare deductible of approximately $9,000.
“Kurt Schrader is fighting against my future health care and a lot of other people’s future health care,” Fifield said, claiming that the pharmaceutical industry has lobbyists that consult Congresspeople over such issues and Schrader’s door is currently open to them. “Close the door, Kurt, open your ears to what we’re saying.”
Testimony was also provided by Cassie Wilson, co-chair of the Clackamas County branch of the Democratic Socialists of America.
“As a 23 year old, I have spent the past year organizing for climate justice literally every day,” Wilson said. “This is not how I want to spend my early 20s, but I feel like I have no choice because the adults in power are not doing their job and the half-measures that have been taken to stop climate change will not be enough.”