Austerity Bites author Mary O’Hara on how austerity is playing out in the U.K. — and why it should be a cautionary tale for U.S. policymakers; what’s behind skyrocketing prescription drug costs — and what we can do about it; plus Jeremy Slevin returns with the latest on the Farm Bill debate and other news of the week In Case You Missed It. Subscribe to Off-Kilter on iTunes.
Victorian diseases eradicated long ago with the advent of antibiotics are making an unlikely comeback across the pond. You heard that right — scurvy and other illnesses related to malnutrition are now having devastating effects on thousands of families as hunger and hardship have spiked, following eight years of austerity cuts in the U.K. To discuss the state of the U.K.’s austerity cuts — which lawmakers in Washington would be wise to consider a cautionary tale as they debate a Farm Bill that would strip 2 million Americans of meager yet vital food assistance — Rebecca talks with Mary O’Hara, a columnist with The Guardian and the author ofAusterity Bites: A Journey to the Sharp Edge of Cuts in the UK.
Later in the show, some 1 in 4 Americans report difficulty affording necessary prescription drugs, as prices have skyrocketed in recent years. In response to this growing crisis, a range of lawmakers in Congress have called for legislation to curb rising drug costs, and states have begun to take action as well, with Vermont’s legislature last week passing a bill to allow the state to import prescription drugs from Canada. To dig into what drives rising drug prices — and what we can do to bring their cost down — Rebecca speaks with Fran Quigley, who coordinates People of Faith for Access to Medicines and serves as a clinical professor in the Health and Human Rights Clinic at Indiana University’s School of Law.
But first, Jeremy Slevin, aka the Slevinator, returns with the latest on the Farm Bill debate (and his cat mitzvah!) and other news of the week, in another installment of In Case You Missed It.
This week’s guests:
- Mary O’Hara, columnist with The Guardian and author of Austerity Bites: A Journey to the Sharp Edge of Cuts in the UK
- Fran Quigley, coordinator of People of Faith for Access to Medicines and clinical professor in the Health and Human Rights Clinic at Indiana University’s School of Law
- Jeremy Slevin, director of antipoverty advocacy at the Center for American Progress (and faithful sidekick)
For more on this week’s topics:
- Learn more about the resurgence of Victorian era diseases in the UK in this piece from Welfare Weekly
- Check out more about the work Fran Quigley is doing to ensure affordability of prescription drugs in this video
- For more on the headlines from this week’s ICYMI segment: watch Dems say #HandsOffSNAP and take a stand against the House GOP farm bill; it turns out Michigan’s heartless Medicaid “work requirements” bill is racist, too; the Trump administration signals there won’t be lifetime limits on Medicaid… for now; New Hampshire becomes the fourth state to gain permission to add “work requirements” to its Medicaid program; how the GOP is using something called “rescission” to threaten the Children’s Health Insurance Program and more with budget cuts; and more on how the Trump administration wants to split up families and criminally prosecute families stopped at the border.
Transcript of show:
REBECCA VALLAS (HOST): Welcome to Off Kilter, the show about poverty, inequality and everything they intersect with powered by the Center for American Progress Action Fund. I’m Rebecca Vallas. Following eight years of sharp austerity cuts, Victorian diseases related to malnutrition such as scurvy are now making a sinister comeback in the United Kingdom. I talk with Mary O’Hara, author of “Austerity Bites: A Journey to the Sharp Edge of Cuts in the U.K.” to get an update on how austerity is playing out across the pond. Spoiler, it’s one heck of a cautionary tale for U.S. lawmakers considering deep cuts to nutrition assistance in the farm bill. Later in the show, one in four Americans are having trouble affording needed prescription drugs as prices have skyrocketed in recent years. I talk with Fran Quigley who coordinates People of Faithe for Access to Medicines. He’s also a clinical professor in the heath and human rights clinic at Indiana University’s School of Law and shares the scoop on what’s driving rising drug prices and what we can do to bring their costs down. But first, Jeremy Slevin, the Slevinator is back because lots is going on and he’s here to catch us up. Slevs, what’s going on?
JEREMY SLEVIN: A lot is going on, thank you for having me back.
VALLAS: Of course you look better, you look rested.
SLEVIN: I’m healthier, I’m well rested, I’m finally better thank you.
VALLAS: Yeah, and I know when you came with a lot of news, you came with a lot that’s going on and I want to get to all of it but perhaps the single most important thing that people may have missed this week was something our listeners may or may not be familiar with as concept but something known a ‘Cat Mitzvah’ [LAUGHTER] You actually hosted a ‘Cat Mitzvah’ for a cat that everyone needs to know whose name is Empress Woo.
SLEVIN: That’s correct, my cat Empress Woo who will now be world famous had her, I initially just called it a Bat Mitzvah but I don’t know how I missed the opportunity to call it a ‘Cat Mitzvah’. It was her ‘Cat Mitzvah’ on Saturday, she is actually one years old, it’s been a year since we adopted her but we did some math because we adopted her when she was one and then we multiplied that by 7 so like in dog years she’s about 14 which is close to 13 so we thought what a great way, what a great time to celebrate her Bat Mitzvah.
VALLAS: And the math passed CAP’s fact check and so you decided to move forward with that.
SLEVIN: Exactly, it was vetted by all of our policy experts and they said yep, that’s good math.
VALLAS: But you actually held this party.
SLEVIN: We did, held a party, she had a yarmulke, she had a signing board, she did great, she nailed her Torah portion, her haf-Torah was a little rough, but she is a cat.
VALLAS: Which one did she do?
SLEVIN: She did, it’s after they leave Egypt and they are building the tabernackle in the first temple, actually that’s my Torah portion. [LAUGHTER] That’s the only one I know!
VALLAS: I would just like for the record to reflect that Will is trying to contain himself over here and is not doing it very well and should probably just come on my mic if he has something to say. He’s shaking his head vehemently. Alright, we’ll leave him out. But congratulations and really Mazel, should I saw Meow-zel Tov.
SLEVIN: Oooo, oooo.
VALLAS: To Empress Woo for this really important milestone in her life and Jeremy I’m just so thrilled that you saw fit to fete her in this way.
SLEVIN: Well, that’s what cats are for really.
VALLAS: As someone who has four of them, I would like to wholeheartedly endorse that because I am a proud and out and proud cat lady and I think that’s important for people to know about me.
SLEVIN: It’s out.
VALLAS: Because they already knew, they definitely already knew. That’s not a secret to anyone who knows me. Alright Slevs, you actually brought some real news of the week but also for anyone who is wondering that really did happen, that was actual news from the week.
SLEVIN: Well on to real news or slightly less important news that the ‘Cat Mitzvah’, today was a huge national day of action —
VALLAS: Why do you always give up what day we tape?
SLEVIN: Because —
VALLAS: We’ve been doing this show for a long time, Slevs.
SLEVIN: Someone’s got to give up our secrets and I nominated myself.
VALLAS: And it might as well be you?
SLEVIN: So today was a huge —
VALLAS: Tuesday, Tuesday May 8th.
SLEVIN: Tuesday, lawmakers gathered on Tuesday May 8th outside the capitol for a, I’m going to say it a third time, national day of action and rally around the Farm Bill that the house is considering for folks who don’t know, last month the house agriculture committee passed a Farm Bill that makes massive cuts to food assistance through the SNAP program, it’s estimated that 2 million people would lose access to food under the plan and it’s being voted on in the house any day now, as soon as Monday they could take up this legislation.
VALLAS: So it could be to just take us out of time pegs, the week of May 14th.
SLEVIN: The week of May 14th, I’ve got to learn to speak in actual dates.
VALLAS: We’ll work on that. Happy Blurs-day to you too Jeremy, so the house could vote on this really monstrous piece of legislation as soon as the week of May 14th, so folks have really been dialing up the pressure particularly on Capitol Hill.
VALLAS: And we saw a bunch of members of congress, all stand up and say hands off SNAP, let’s take a listen to some of the sound.
[BEGIN AUDIO CLIP]
CONGRESSMAN JIM MCGOVERN: And let me say loud and clear to Speaker Ryan and Chairman Conoway, keep your goddamn hands off of SNAP!
What is wrong with you? What are you thinking? How dare you? Stop beating up on poor people!
CONGRESSWOMAN LISA BLUNT RODCHESTER: This program helped my family when we needed it the most. And I have a message to the millions of people who rely on SNAP, we’ve got your back. We’ve got your back. We see you, we see you.
CONGRESSWOMAN GWEN MOORE: I’m sick and tired of the lie that this is about work. This ain’t about work, y’all, 44% of the people who receive SNAP are children.
CONGRESSWOMAN ROSA DELAURO: There are no requirements on ‘Big Agriculture’, no requirements for the farms, those nieces, those nephews, their cousins who can get a subsidy there, no income requirements, no asset requirements, no curtailing the benefits to these folks, they get what they want at the same time they are taking food out of the mouths of our children and those who are most vulnerable.
MINORITY LEADER NANCY PELOSI: So this is about values and when we talk about values we have to understand that there are certain people here in Washington who do not share our values. A budget is supposed to be a statement of our values. What’s important to us as a nation should be where we make our investments. Instead we give tax breaks, 83% of the benefits to the top 1%, trillion and a half dollars plus interest over 2 trillion dollars taking us deeper in debt and then say, well we’re going to debt so we have to make cuts.
[END AUDIO CLIP]
VALLAS: In order of speaking we just heard from Congressman Jim McGovern of Massachusetts, a huge champion of the SNAP program and nutrition and working families generally. We heard from Congresswoman Lisa Blunt Rodchester, a total powerhouse if you don’t know her and also on the Agriculture Committee. We heard from Congresswoman Gwen Moore of Wisconsin, someone who speaks powerfully about her own personal experience of benefiting from programs like TANF and SNAP. Congresswoman Rosa DeLauro of Connecticut, a fiery powerhouse and always someone who practically loses her voice by the end of her remarks at a rally as you can hear her doing there and then closing it out Speaker Pelosi who was standing up there next to these members of congress and saying this is not something Democrats are going to let stand. We also heard from a couple of moms speaking powerfully about what SNAP has meant to them and to their families as well as from a farmer who has struggled to put food on the table herself while growing food for other people. I’d love to take a listen to those as well.
[BEGIN AUDIO CLIP]
FIRST SPEAKER: I’m a single mom with a nine year old son, we live in Washington state. My extended family lives across the country from us. So I don’t have much of a social safety net and have to go up for loan. For years I’ve worked temp jobs to support us, that was very difficult to find affordable child care for my son during my work hours. Right now while I’m in school we need SNAP to get by. That $350 a month means I don’t have to worry about putting food on the table or have to choose between paying rent or feeding my child.
SECOND SPEAKER: I’m a farmer, I’m a mother, and I use SNAP. The bill as it stands now for farmers and ranchers across America doesn’t work on so many levels. The idea of not having food is terrifying, it’s paralyzing. Growing up without food stamps would have been so difficult for my family, using them now I have God bless her, a daughter with very, very severe behavioral issues so for me sometimes working consistently is just not possible. Raising food, caring for this [INAUDIBLE] caring for my family is challenging at moments, times when I have a blight, times when we have drought, growing food at 8,000 feet, there’s time when my yield projections, they just don’t work and those are the times when I use Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program.
THIRD SPEAKER: 8 years ago my parents suffered back to back devastating health problems. I know that imposing work requirements for SNAP beneficiaries would crush hard working individuals and families because that’s what would have happened to me. My mother was in remission from metastatic lung cancer, but while she was on the mend my father got into a horrible car accident that left him with a traumatic brain injury and a amputated leg. There was no way that we could have managed if I had to work 20 plus hours a week. Who would have gotten my father in his wheelchair every morning? Who would have taken him to his doctors appointments when he needed a check up? I had no choice but to be with him full time. I was only able to make it work because we qualified for SNAP. Politicians try to justify imposing work requirements on struggling people by implying that we abuse the system and that we just take and take without working for it. That couldn’t be further from the truth. We are trying to feed our kids, trying to care for our parents and to set ourselves up financially to be stable down the road.
[END AUDIO CLIP]
VALLAS: And of course there was lots of “Shame, shame, shame, shame” to be going around because that is what Republicans should feel for put forth this bill and hopefully so much so that the vote does not get held next week as it’s starting to sound might be possible.
SLEVIN: Yeah, so from what we know Paul Ryan and Republican leadership do not have the votes for this right now and we need to do everything we can to ensure that they don’t. we’ve created a tool called HandsOffSNAP.org, you can go and you can find the top targets on this vote and you can contact your member of congress either by tweeting at them or by calling their office directly and telling them to vote against a bill that would take away food assistance from 2 million people.
VALLAS: And it’s handsoffSNAP.org, you can of course as folks know, go to HandsOff.org to find other resources to get involved in this fight but we are at a point where right now they are scared, they are recognizing that two-thirds of Americans oppose cuts to nutrition assistance and that Americans are less likely to vote for a candidate who backs these cuts. That’s relatively new polling that is starting to really open eyes on Capitol Hill. And for folks who want to call their member of congress and to tell them hands off SNAP but who don’t find their members in that tool at HandsOffSNAP.org, all members of congress need to be hearing from their constituents, if you don’t see your member listed, you can call the main switchboard of the Capitol and that is 202–224–3121, sing it with me Slevs, 202–224–3121 and they will connect you with your member of congress so you can say hands off SNAP, this is now how I want to see my country making choices. There’s a lot else going on this week but we wanted to interrupt our regularly scheduled programming to bring that to folks given the timeliness of it. A lot going on on the Medicaid front.
SLEVIN: Yeah, a ton going on in Medicaid, while the press is focused on Trump’s tweets or dalliances they are quietly moving forward with their plan to administratively gut the nation’s healthcare system. So we’ll start with a bit of minor good news on Medicaid and I say that tempered. We reported last week that the administration was considering denying waivers to allow states to implement lifetime limits on Medicaid access. So that means they would say you can only get Medicaid. If you’re sick, tough, if you have a disability, tough. They officially now denied a waiver to Kansas who had applied for it. Suggesting that for now, states cannot deny Medicaid for a lifetime but in the same speech that they announced they were doing that they said that states could implement work requirements for Native Americans which a community who was previously thought to be exempt from their so called work requirements which would take away Medicaid from people who don’t work. So while with one hand they’re saying we’re not going to implement new Medicaid restrictions but actually we’re going to make it worse in another way so with one hand they take and with another they give.
VALLAS: and of course, at the same time as we’re getting out the balloons on lifetime limits for now they also, I know this is also on your list so I’m going to spoil it for you and scoop you on it, they also announced that New Hampshire has now been approved as the fourth state in the country to have permission to take away Medicaid from people who can’t find a job or get enough hours at work. Of course, the good folks of New Hampshire will join Kentucky, Arkansas and Indiana as the other three states that had gotten their permission slips signed by the Trump administration as it were to institute this heartless policy so one shred of really good news and we shouldn’t understate it but amid a pretty bleak ongoing picture of total dismantlement of the Medicaid program that is still actively being litigated in the court. I want to say before we move on from lifetime limits, I’ve said it before I’ll say it again, I think it bears repeating, there is a special place in hell for someone who thinks it is a good idea to put a lifetime limit on something like health insurance. I think that that’s true across the board when it comes to various forms of assistance, time limits that are arbitrary don’t meet people where they are and don’t appreciate that life is not one size fits all but I have to say the thought that people who are struggling with chronic illnesses, with disabilities, living with disabilities where Medicaid is their form of independence, it’s what enables them to live independently instead of in an institution, a nursing home. It allows people to work because they have the long term services and supports that they need to work. There are so many reasons why health insurance and health care should be and really is a right in any enlightened society and to be having an ongoing conversation where what passes for celebration in this moment is the fact that the administration is at least putting a hold on a decision that would mean yanking health insurance away from people because they’ve hit year three of needing health insurance is absolutely mind-blowing to me.
SLEVIN: Yep, amen, and I think the same is true of work requirements. These are all policies designed to take away health care from a population who they view as quote, unquote “undeserving” and in fact if you are a human being I don’t think you’re undeserving of health care.
VALLAS: While we’re talking about Medicaid there’s some other news there as well, taking us back to Michigan.
SLEVIN: So last bit of news on Medicaid, the senate in Michigan recently passed their bill to implement work requirements in the state. It turns out the bill was not only cruel but as huge racial disparities in the bill. A lot of the Republicans who passed it, it turns out represents rural counties where the unemployment rate in really high and a lot of people turn to Medicaid. And it turns out when have a lot of people who can’t find work but also need health care they turn to Medicaid and implementing work requirements would really be harmful for them. So they in part of the bill what they did is the exempt counties who have an unemployment rate above 8.5%, but —
VALLAS: Which sounds neutral on its face, sounds like a good idea.
SLEVIN: Sounds like a good idea but a lot of low income folks in urban counties, say Flint residents, Flint has an unemployment rate of 10.4% but Genesee county where it’s located only has an unemployment rate of 5.8% so the good folks in Michigan did some number crunching and found that this policy, this bill will actually have huge racial disparities and would implement these work requirements, taking away Medicaid from people in Flint but exempting people in rural Michigan and there are now civil rights challenges to this because it is effectively taking away health care from disproportionately people of color in Michigan.
VALLAS: So not just cruel but actually racist in its design and not accidentally so because of who the lawmakers are and who they are trying to protect and the way in which they’ve designed this so there are already plenty of good reasons for folks in Michigan’s house to vote no if they do take up some version of this bill, this is yet another reason adding on to a very, very high pile. So take us away from Medicaid Jeremy. Oh there’s more?
SLEVIN: Well not Medicaid but I think this is another health care bit of news that effects CHIP. So many people may remember that congress passed and trump signed a spending bill earlier this year, which finally raised the limits on spending on defense and non-defense spending following the tax cut they passed this bipartisan bill to fund the government and democrats said if you’re going to increase all this spending on defense as Trump wanted, you’re also going to have increase funding for things like health care, like CHIP or like school lunches or Head Start. So that was the agreement that was passed.
VALLAS: Funny, that sounds like negotiations where one side gets a little bit of what they want, the other side gets a little bit of what they want.
SLEVIN: Yes, yes, it all seemed to make sense. Of course Republicans said fine, but we’re not going to give any protections for DREAMers which was the big ask of Democrats that left DREAMers out in the dust, but now Republicans are actually reneging on the deal.
VALLAS: So it was, indeed, too good to be true.
SLEVIN: Yes. So they’re proposing a new package that actually rolls back the funding mainly for the Children’s Health Insurance Program which makes up half of the spending they’re rolling back so Trump is asking congress to rescind about $15 billion in funding for everything from housing to Center for Medicaid and Medicare of course to funds that help combat the Ebola outbreak to the unemployment insurance program to CHIP funding. So again, we thought we had a deal and congress is now reneging.
VALLAS: So I know this sounds incredibly wonky and the very word rescission is something that might make people’s eyes glaze over.
SLEVIN: I intentionally avoided saying the word rescission because it also sounds too much like recession and that just confuses people.
VALLAS: Well I’m going there because I think a lot of the news stories are referring to it this way so the technical term that’s getting used is rescission which is not just a wonky sounding word that doesn’t really mean anything to anyone it’s also a very technical word. So that’s the word that’s getting thrown around but this is a really important word for folks to understand because what’s at stake is actually the entire budget deal that was touted earlier this year that kept the government open, that reopened the government and had some really important components in it that should have bipartisan support but this is the Trump administration and Republicans in congress saying eh, we were kind of there for a minute but now we’re not anymore and also by the way screw the kids.
VALLAS: So, did I sum that up well?
SLEVIN: Yes, yes.
VALLAS: So you have one more piece of news I think?
SLEVIN: Yes, and it’s pretty awful news right out of the Trump playbook. Jeff Sessions on Monday, see I used the day, in a —
VALLAS: He’s learning everyone!
SLEVIN: A speech I don’t think that got the proper coverage given the magnitude basically announcement that parents and children, migrants will be forcibly separated when they enter the country. Here’s what he said, “If you are smuggling a child then we will prosecute you and that child will be separated from you as required by law. If you don’t like that, then don’t smuggling your children over our border.” He is saying that the administration will prosecute and detain 100% of people who cross the border. Right now in many cases people flee countries of unspeakable violence and are seeking asylum and while they are seeking asylum they live in the country. What this is saying is we will now detain everyone and put people in jails and in many cases as Sessions said separate parents from their children. And not only will it strain these detention facilities where people live in unspeakable conditions but it will contribute to an increase of thousands of immigrants being detained and separate families.
VALLAS: While further ramping up the criminalization of immigrants, which is core to the Trump playbook as you noted. Really really devastating ugly stuff, I hate to leave it there because I generally like to end on a note of what folks can do and I think in this moment on that it’s just the public outcry that’s going to be really important for folks to say this is not the kind of country I want to live in. but aside from tat I don’t know if you have any suggestion for how folks can get involved with trying to stop that particularly egregious and xenophobic decision.
SLEVIN: Can I say vote?
VALLAS: Actually that’s a great place to end because we’re at a moment where the midterms are starting in earnest this week and this is a great moment to remind people that the way that we have way better “In Case You Missed It” segments that are all outpourings of good news is to vote in elections. So with that, that’s a great place to end Slevs.
VALLAS: Don’t go away, more Off Kilter after the break, I will be talking with Mary O’Hara of The Guardian also author of “Austerity Bites” about why we are seeing scurvy and other Victorian malnutrition disease come back to the U.K.
You’re listening to Off Kilter, I’m Rebecca Vallas. Victorian diseases long ago eradicated with the advent of antibiotics are making an unlikely comeback across the pond. You heard that right, scurvy and other illnesses related to malnutrition are now having devastating effects on thousands of families in the U.K. as hunger and hardship has spiked following 8 years of austerity cuts in that country. To discuss the state of the U.K.’s austerity cuts which lawmakers in Washington would be wise consider a cautionary tale as they debate a Farm Bill that would strip two million Americans of meager yet vital food assistance I am so thrilled to be joined by Mary O’Hara, she’s a columnist with The Guardian and the author of “Austerity Bites, A Journey to the Sharp Edge of Cuts in The U.K.” Mary, it’s such a pleasure to have you back on the show but in particularly in person in studio!
MARY O’HARA: I know, it’s great, it’s very exciting.
VALLAS: It is a little weird to know someone at such a distance for so long and finally meet you as a human.
O’HARA: I know it’s great. I’m chuffed as they would said where I’m from.
VALLAS: I’m going to start using that, I’m officially going to start using that. So there’s been a lot of comparisons made over the course of the past several years about austerity policies playing out in the UK and a lot of the policy debates in the United States, sometimes it’s had very specific comparisons. We’lll talk a little bit about the disability benefit debates that have been happening in both countries, that’s one great example but before we get into any of the weeds, tell the story of how austerity came to be the law of the land in the UK.
O’HARA: Well austerity was first introduced in Britain in 2010 a few years after the financial crisis by then coalition government of the conservative party and liberal democrats. It was introduced as a response they said, to the difficult situation that was caused not just by the financial crisis but the previous labor government, which was an out and out lie you can’t blame the labor government for the financial crisis. Their response to the economic situation as they saw it was to cut social programs, to cut the welfare state and to do it really quite dramatically, they cut everything from education through to policing through to parts of health care and the result of that was I’m sad to say predicable because a lot of people warned at the time that if they did this massive sweeping project of cuts, the people who would be hurt the most would be the most vulnerable in society. Would be marginalized groups, everything from victims of domestic violence who could no longer access refuges because they were cut to young people caught up in the criminal justice system, people who couldn’t get legal aid and a large of people with disabilities were effected because their direct assistance, their direct benefits were under attack.
VALLAS: Now there’s been research in the years since that put some really stark data points to some of what you’ve been talking about. A couple of things that have jumped out to me over the years, in particular one piece of research that was published in the British Medical Journal last year estimated that the austerity program in the UK caused around 120,000 excess deaths since 2010. So you’re really not hyperbolizing the describe the consequences as truly life or death for so many people.
O’HARA: Yeah, they are, I mean they’ve been catastrophic in many ways and again I’ll talk about people with disabilities in this regard. They were the first community to really stand up and point what was coming down the road and just how bad it would be and large numbers of disabled activists and organizations, grassroots and beyond have continually campaigned on this issue of people being killed as a result of this, for example the stress of no longer being able to work, no longer being able, being told by the government basically that you are worthless almost. There’s been high levels of mental health problems, suicides, suicide attempts, it cuts right across physical, mental health and when that figure was actually put on it a lot of people felt vindicated because the people who were pointing out that these deaths were happening were being told they were talking utter nonsense and they were exaggerating, that they were just trying to score political points and it clearly was not the case.
VALLAS: And your noting that some of the people that have been most significantly and most negatively impacted by the austerity cuts have been people with disabilities but you’re also pointing out and I think that this is a point worth really drawing out and focusing on a little bit, that the austerity cuts have themselves actually caused disability in people.
O’HARA: That’s right.
VALLAS: By making them sicker by causing depression and other mental health conditions. Some people have been theorizing particular a group called Psychologists for Social Change who has written extensively about this. That this is about humiliating and shaming people and scaring them into experiencing depression and other types of mental health conditions.
O’HARA: Absolutely and we already know, I mean the evidence is vast for the psychological impact of financial stress generally and that poor people, people on lower incomes are more likely to experience that. So if you add on top of that a deluge of blaming and shaming and remember in the UK the number of attacks on people with disabilities, verbal abuse of people with disabilities increases almost in direct proportion to the government rhetoric that was accusing them essentially of being a drain on society when in fact what the benefits system was doing for disabled people was empowering them to have their rightful place in society equal to everybody else.
VALLAS: Now another data point that again, related to really, really horrible consequences and in particular, death that has come out recently in some of the analysis of how austerity is playing out in the UK is actually children ending up being killed in the streets because of cuts to the police force.
O’HARA: Well this is a particularly contentious issue because in some parts of the country, particularly London things like knife crime and increasing gun crime, you don’t know want to say it’s anywhere near the scale that it is in America for instance because it’s just harder to get guns but there have been particularly at the start of this year an increase so far on the quarter from the previous year in young people being killed with guns and there have been arguments made that big cuts to the police force, the Metropolitan Police in London are having an impact. One of the things that was flagged up at a police conference, it might have been two or three years ago before Theresa May was Prime Minister when she was Home Secretary police officers stood up and warned that if you cut police officers you cut the police on the beat, that has a big impact on communities and it has a big impact on their ability to connect especially with younger people and keep them out of trouble.
VALLAS: Now I mentioned that there have been some real paralells drawn, you’ve drawn them, I’ve drawn them, other people have as well between the debate in the UK, particularly in the wake of the austerity cuts and how they then were going to end up being implemented, how they were going to find the savings that they needed under the austerity program and the debate in the US that’s played out in the US over the course of the past several years when it comes to the Social Security Disability programs. Tell a little bit of that story, how has it looked in the UK?
O’HARA: Yeah so basically under this guise in inverted commas of “reform”, “welfare reform” has basically been slashing essential services. That includes women and children but a lot has happened to people with disabilities. And obviously in the US with the attacks on Medicaid, etc and on the Affordable Care Act, disabled people in both countries have been on the front line A, of receiving the worst of these, the worst of these kinds of policies but also to fight back and put them back on the agenda. There’s enormous similarities in their language used by politicians to justify them and in the impact that they have on people. And I think that people can be very easily forgot in all of this is there are long-term consequences for this. It costs a society to cut the support system for the people who need it most.
VALLAS: One of the things that has been at the heart of the cuts to disability benefits in the UK has been the so called “fit for work” tests, which are really about sorting the wheat from the chaff, who are the people who are deserving, who are the people who are undeserving, it’s very similar to the concept here in the United States of quote, unquote, “able-bodied”, which we’ve talked a lot about on this show for the best several months because of the centrality of that concept and that term in the debates around work requirements in assistance programs. How has “fit for work” played out in the UK?
O’HARA: Well it’s something that had it’s roots earlier, it had it’s roots before austerity and reform that were being made and being mooted but it was solidified under the doctrine of austerity and built into it is a fundamental assumption that if someone isn’t working it’s because they’ve chosen not to work. It’s not because you’re suffering from Multiple Sclerosis and you actual can’t physical get to work. And what they managed to do was create, almost replace the system that was already existing, getting disabled people to come and be given tests to see if they were “fit for work”. Some people I spoke to were talking about being told to lift a pen off a table and if they could lift a pen off a table that they meant they were fit for work even though that person might have the kind of illness that means they have better days and they have awful days but what they can’t do is commit to full time work for an employer so what they’re asking for is some kind of assistance. There are other people who wanted assistance to work and that assistance was being pulled away but they were still being blamed for not being in work. But the “fit to work” language makes it sound to the general public as if that is what at stake here, you’re actually fit you’re just not telling the government that you’re fit to work so you’re exploiting the system, you’re exploiting the tax payer, this mythical tax payer.
VALLAS: And a big part of the disability cuts as they’ve played out have actually had to do with housing and how housing assistance is provided in the UK.
O’HARA: Yeah the housing, stuff it covers a lot of issues actually, for disabled people they were again, often the first to be effected by changes to housing policy. But the housing policy has more generally effected people and I think like cuts to public housing, the bedroom tax which is basically a tax on being in a public housing property with in quote, “a spare room” even if you were disabled and that room was used to house your expensive, necessary equipment. Then you were expected to pay the government money to have that extra room even though it’s essential.
VALLAS: Now you mentioned that people with disabilities have been at the forefront of criticizing the austerity regime, pushing back against it, they’ve been on the front line similar to what we’ve seen in the United States with ADAPT.
VALLAS: And disability activists being really the people we can thank for the fact that the ACA and Medicaid are still in place.
VALLAS: What has the push back looked over the years? It’s now been about 8 years since austerity has been in place, what’s the movement against it look like?
O’HARA: I have to say, the thing that shocks me is that despite this continued effort by people with disabilities to raise the profile of what’s been happening, it hasn’t really shifted public opinion. I’m genuinely staggered by that because eyou have disabled people tying themselves to railings outside Parliament but I think a lot of that and a lot of the disability activists would say this is the case is that they don’t get the media coverage for the action that they’re taking. It doesn’t get [INAUDIBLE] as much as it should in the mainstream news environments. I think if it did then maybe people would realize a bit more about what’s going on.
VALLAS: What do you think is to be attributed, or what do you think is behind the differential media response in the UK versus the US?
O’HARA: You know I don’t know, I honestly don’t know the answer to that question. But it seems to me that one of the things that matters, and it matters here too is if you don’t have people represented in the media then often their issues get set aside. In the UK, as far as the disability rights issues are concerned it’s kind of seen as oh that’s an issue for those people. Here because the disability rights activism is focused on things like the Affordable Care Act which effects the whole country and many more people will be denied access to Medicaid for instance, then maybe that has a different impact on the media because the people in the media might be effected by the lack of access to health care and Medicaid or their friends and family.
VALLAS: Now looking ahead there have been some recent comments following a change in power in the UK. Now it appears that austerity might not be forever, it’s been extended already once past the originally scheduled period of time where it would be in place but everyone’s been wondering when does austerity come to an end? Is that finally on the horizon?
O’HARA: Me and everybody else, barely a month goes by when you don’t read something and someone saying “austerity is over” or an economist will say “technically it’s not austerity anymore.” But if you’re on the receiving end of this, if you’ve been made homeless, if you’re a women who can’t access a domestic violence refuge, if you can’t get legal aid or you can’t get the kind of wheelchair that you need you’re not going to believe anybody when they tell you this is over anytime soon.
VALLAS: Now Mary you have a book, as I mentioned, called “Austerity Bites” which gets into a lot of this in more detail. I would strongly recommend it to listeners who are trying to get up to speed and to learn some lessons from the UK who is in many ways the canary in the coal mine for a lot of the debates happening in the United States. But you’re actually working on a new book now and a new project, tell me a little bit about that.
O’HARA: Yeah, it’s kind of an extension of the austerity work. Because I started wondering about the rhetoric that’s being used. I realized very early on that the rhetoric was being used to shore up really unjustifiable policies. And then I found a lot of similarities especially working on my column for The Guardian between the two countries in terms of the rhetoric use and in terms of the policies that they were used to promote so I wanted to take a look at that and say why these two countries? And they’re two of the wealthiest nations on earth. Why are they so busy trying to make people poor? I just don’t understand it. So I’m starting work on a book called “The Shame Game” which will very much focus on the where the hell are we with this? Why is shaming and blaming the poor a thing in the first place and what are we going to do about it? There’s stuff already happening in both countries that is directly challenging this. In the US, the Fight for 15 movement for example which is very much talking about the dignity of low income workers and refusing to accept words like ‘entitlements’ which are laden with judgment. So I want to explore all of that. In both countries I’m interviewing all kinds of people. It’s part of a wider project so I’m reaching out to artists and writers and story tellers, poets who are producing creative work on these topics and these issues. And they’re trying to take a different, take the narrative somewhere else. To point out where we’re going wrong.
VALLAS: Do you have any early conversations that you could give us a teaser on as you’ve been doing research and having conversations for this project?
O’HARA: Well it’s kind of interesting because I’m speaking to musicians and artists as well and I interviewed one British singer songwriter Nadine Shah recently who is a, she’s a mental health activist as well actually, she’s wonderful but she does a lot of work with young people and she speaks a lot about how her music has been infused with what the young people are telling her basically about what do their futures hold for them? And I think there’s, forget millennials for a moment, the generation coming up I think I are, genuinely she says are speaking up and trying to find different ways to communicate their concerns on this. That’s reassuring to me that they’re thinking about it but really you don’t want to have to be thinking about it when you’re 17, come on.
VALLAS: I’ve been speaking with Mary O’Hara, she’s a journalist who writes a column that everyone should read in my opinion because it’s awesome for The Guardian. I’m also biased because your column is regularly about poverty and disability issues as so few regular columns are. She’s also the author of “Austerity Bites: A Journey to the Sharp Edge of Cuts in the UK” and Mary, I’m really, really excited for “The Shame Game”, when is it coming?
O’HARA: Well it will be published in the US by the University of Chicago Press and by Policy Press in the UK and it looks like it will be February 2020.
VALLAS: Can’t wait, Mary thanks so much for coming back on the show and so cool to meet you in person!
O’HARA: I know I’m doing a little emoji face. [LAUGHTER] Thanks.
VALLAS: Don’t go away, more Off Kilter after the break, I’m Rebecca Vallas.
You’re listening to Off Kilter, I’m Rebecca Vallas. Some one in four Americans report difficulty affording needed prescription drugs as prices have skyrocketed in recent years. In response to this growing crisis, a range of lawmakers in congress have called for legislation to curb rising drug costs and states have begun to take action as well with Vermont’s legislature just last week passing a bill to allow the state to import prescription drugs from Canada. To dig into what’s driving rising drug prices and what we can do to bring their costs down, I’m joined by Fran Quigley, who coordinates People of Father for Access to Medicine. He’s also a clinical professor in the Health and Human Rights Clinic in Indiana University’s school of law. Fran, thank you so much for joining the show.
FRAN QUIGLEY: Thanks for having me, Rebecca.
VALLAS: So there was something about that scene that really stuck with me because it was so much the American experience today, to live in this country and not be super ultra wealthy is to be a person who at one time or another has confronted the inability to access medicine that you need because of the cost. How did we get here? How did we get to a place where drug prices are skyrocketing out of control?
QUIGLEY: Well that’s a great question because it didn’t used to be this way. I ask people sometimes do you know anybody who couldn’t afford the polio vaccine? And they don’t because Dr. Salk, Jonah Salk didn’t take a patent out on it. We’ve got a system now where we take this life essential good of medicines which people need in order to survive and we let corporations get monopoly patents for decades and decades on end and they can set the price whatever they want to be. That’s crazy and that’s put us where we are right now in large part as these monopolies that have caused us to all be a little bit at the mercy of whatever a corporation wants to charge for something that decides whether we live or die.
VALLAS: There’s sort of a conventional wisdom out there, maybe for people who haven’t thought a ton about it or maybe all they’ve been really hearing is the perspective of big pharma, sort of repeated in the media so often as it is. But that yeah, drug prices are expensive and high because pharmaceutical research is really expensive and yeah I guess we have to pay these prices because that’s what it takes for life saving medicines to be developed. But that’s not what’s going on here.
QUIGLEY: No, that’s not at all what’s going on. That’s a lie unfortunately that it is often times believed and folks who don’t have a chance to look deeper but the truth of the matter is for the most critical medicines at the most critical stage we taxpayers are the ones who are funding that research. And then we hand over the monopoly patent to the private companies, they do some clinical trials research but for the most part we could absolutely replace that with more and better research that’s more focused on health with the taxpayer dollars we already have in the system that we use really, really unwisely right now.
VALLAS: So I want to dig into the patent piece of this because I feel like that’s really at the heart of a lot of the problem here and it’s also one of the pieces that maybe gets the least attention in the conversation about rising drug prices. How do drug patents work? And what do you mean when you call them monopoly patents?
QUIGLEY: Right, well we have this strange, crazy, dysfunctional harmful system in the US but it traces back not very far to the 1980 Bayh-Dole Act where we have almost all of our critical medicines can be traced back to federally funded research. So the federal government through our taxpayer dollars has actually discovered these medicines. When they become promising compounds thanks to the 1980 Bayh-Dole Act we actually hand over the rights to private companies. But as you say, these are patent rights and patents are monopolies. It simply gives the company the absolute right to have only the person who can actually manufacture and sell these goods and if they’re life essential good where life depends on it the price can be set as high as they want to and frankly people will pay it. We have for instance insulin the price of insulin has gone up a thousand plus percent in the last 20 years. Well everybody who is type 1 diabetic will pay that price because they need it to survive. Oncology medicines that can be manufactured relatively cheaply, $100,000 plus a year for almost all the new ones. People will pay that price because that’s what it takes to stay alive. But they don’t have to be priced that high, it doesn’t cost that much to manufacture them. That’s not what it costs to research them either.
VALLAS: We often hear either explicitly or implicitly from big pharma is yeah, but we actually really need these patents because again it’s really expensive to develop these life sustaining and life saving medications and if we don’t have these patents then we’re not going to be able to make the numbers work, we just wont have the incentive to develop them. And to some extent you often hear that from health groups as well, some of whom are funded by big pharma and that’s important to tease out when you think about who’s where in terms of their policy positions but is there any truth there?
QUIGLEY: I think not, I think not. I think history has shown in other cultures and other nations and other eras have shown that if we’re talking about research for a life saving good, there are plenty of researchers who would love to devote their entire careers to doing that. Dr. Salk wouldn’t take a patent out on the Polio vaccine, the inventors of insulin gave up their patents for a dollar each so that everybody could be treated with these medicines. We actually have the ability with our federal dollars to do this research. The National Institutes of Health has a $34 billion a year budget to fund this research. We can fund it and we don’t have to give away monopoly patents in order to actually incentivize the further research. And the pharma industries research and they do conduct a lot of research but a lot of it’s not really focused on health, it’s focused on profits because they’re for profit companies and we don’t need to do it that way. We waste so much money in our system. Right now we’ve got the dollars in our system to fix it now if we just make a focus on health and not on price gouging for monopoly corporations.
VALLAS: Now it’s hard to have a conversation about skyrocketing drug prices without a certain person’s face coming into your head. I’m speaking for myself but I think it’s probably true for you and probably for other people who think about these issues and that face belongs to Martin Shkreli who recently returned to the headlines when he was sentenced to seven years in prison for securities fraud. But he became a household name years ago when it came to light that he had hiked up the price of a drug called Daraprim, I hope I’m pronouncing that right because I’ve only ever seen it written but Daraprim, a medication that’s used to treat life threatening infections that can strike people who have compromised immune systems so for example, people with HIV/AIDS. And so after Daraprim was acquired by Shkreli’s company in 2015 and here’s where he became someone we all knew who he was, the price of a single tablet of this medicine skyrocketed literally overnight by 5,000%. It went from $13.50 to $750 per tablet overnight. And this wasn’t the first time that Shkreli had done this, it maybe hadn’t gotten nearly as much attention, he had actually just a year earlier encouraged a different company to inflate the price of a kidney stone medicine. But this guy has really sort of, he made an art out of price gouging as you put it for literally life sustaining medication and he earned the nickname ‘Pharma Bro’ because he was flaunting his millions, even doing things like a single copy of a Wu-Tang Clan album for $2 million. But Shkreli is far from alone. This is something we’re seeing across the industry.
QUIGLEY: Rebecca, that’s a perfect point. He is an extreme example of the business model and the business model is to take a life essential good and to sit around in a conference room and to decide what can we get away with charging [for] it. There’s been Wall Street Journal investigations, U.S. Senate investigations and lots of insider accounts that that’s exactly how the prices are determined. It doesn’t matter how much research costs or anything else, it’s just what can we get away with? There’s a Hepatitis C medication out there now, marketed under the name Sovaldi. The manufacturer of that Hepatitis C medicine which is a terrific medicine, it actually cures Hepatitis C, it’s a terrifically impactful medicine and they decided that this medicine that cost $102 to manufacture that the company did not discover, it was discovered by federal taxpayer dollars, that they were going to decide to charge well maybe 30, maybe 40, maybe 50, and it ended up with $84,000 for a 12 week course of medicines that are manufactured for a little over $100. It was a literally a decision of what we can get away with charging. That’s exactly what Shkreli did, he was a little less subtle about it and was little less savvy at handling the PR challenges of it but that is the pharmaceutical industry business model. Take a monopoly, understand that people will die if they cannot buy your good and price the hell out of it.
VALLAS: EpiPen is another example here. It made headlines last year and the year before because Mylan, the company that produces EpiPen had changed ownership and management I should say and all of a sudden you look back at the numbers and you find that the prices for an EpiPen have risen 400% over a decade which in comparison to some of the other skyrocketing prices maybe doesn’t sound quite as dramatic but you end up with say parents with a kid with an allergy having the shell out 500 some dollars for a single EpiPen that will be the thing that is the difference between life and death if they’re exposed to say, peanut butter in school.
QUIGLEY: Right and you can see pharmaceutical executives cringing around the world when this happened because they’re like dude you need to raise the price at huge amounts but a little more subtle than that and double digits every six months or so and you see that the prices go up and up and up on all kinds of medicines including insulin, the price has gone up 1,000% on a 95 year old drug in the past 20 years but by piece, by piece by piece by piece and don’t attract too much attention and so EpiPen folks, Shkreli, they didn’t do it the righ way, the quote, unquote, “right way” for PR purposes but they’re doing exactly what the entire business industry’s model is about.
VALLAS: And have been getting away with and it’s not been something they’ve all been caught doing. So a story that is really worth telling here in the context of how this is not all inevitable and there actually are ways to change what has become the new normal with regards to price gouging of life sustaining medication really dates back to the origins of the HIV/AIDS epidemic in the 1980s. Tell a little bit of that story.
QUIGLEY: Yeah so the HIV/AIDS until the mid 1990s was just a flat out death sentence. It was not an illness that could be treated. It was killing people and killing people by the millions across the world including in the US and the ACT UP movement and activists in the US in particular really pushed and pushed and pushed and they pushed the federal government to do more and more research and that research eventually was really successful and discovered the anti-retroviral medicines could halt the progress of the HIV virus and then this became a chronic disease that could be survived. So in the mid 1990s this was discovered with federal dollars. But we know what happens thanks to the 1980 Bayh-Dole Act, thanks to the way we do business in the US we handed over the monopoly patents to private companies, they said wow this is an incredible impactful medicines, maybe it only costs a couple bucks a day to manufacture it but we’re going to charge $1,015 a month. And in the US and in the global north it was so impactful that our insurance companies and our governments, we paid for it, we paid for that. But in the global south people were dying not by the 10s of thousands, 100s of thousands, they were dying by the millions untreated of a disease that we had the medicines available to treat.
Folks organized, folks organized partly with support of folks here in the US, activists that had been part of the ACT UP movement in particular. But folks in South Africa and across the continent of Sub-Saharan Africa started to organizing and pushing and pushing and they pushed the administration at the time was the Clinton administration and they pushed the pharmaceutical companies and it was just a classic human rights activism campaign of naming and shaming and saying you are causing people to die. And what appeared to be impossible was to take on big pharma, some of the poorest and sickest people in the world. They pushed and pushed and pushed and ramped up the pressure until they caved. And when they caved generic medicines became available and generic versions of anti-retrovirals cost what the price dropped 99% almost overnight and we’ve now got tens of millions of people globally who are on anti-retrovirals, affordable anti-retroviral medicines because of activism and because the prices of medicines is a phony made up around a conference table decision and when the price is real, when the price is actually competitive in what costs to manufacture, it’s a fraction of what all of us are paying for patented medicines.
VALLAS: So what can we learn from that story?
QUIGLEY: What we can learn is activism works. What we can learn is that the patients leading the way and the health community, advocacy community and the faith community, which we’re involved with, trying to actually make this a moral question. A question of access to a public lifesaving good as opposed to a quarterly profit question then we can actually lower the price of medicines for all of us. It can be done, it was done, the world’s most powerful industry and the world’s most powerful government were taken on by some of the sickest and poorest people in the world and they won and we can do that too.
VALLAS: So let’s get into some of the solutions here because there’s organizing, there’s activism, there’s so much to learn as you said from that successful sort that has it’s origins in true horror but ends up with a sucess at the end in terms of bringing the cost of those drugs down to a place where people can reasonably access them. People often talk about Medicare in the context of how do we bring the prices down. What’s the role of Medicare currently in the sky rocketing drug prices situation that we’re facing and how can Medicare be part of the solution?
QUIGLEY: Right, we’ve just only recently created the Medicare Part D program which is prescription drug coverage which is great but part of the deal cut and congress approved back in the 2004 I want to say was the decision to allow the Part D program to exist but not to negotiate the price of medicines. We are the only country in the world that has enormous government program that purchases medicines by the billions but will not use that bulk purchasing power to negotiate down the price, that’s really the biggest reason why I’m from Indiana, insulin that’s manufactured in Indiana costs three times as much in our communities than it does in Canada or Japan or the UK because they will negotiate down the price of medicines. We refuse to do so. That’s a really good step on the way and it’s something that has bipartisan support, it’s something that a lot of folks have said we need to do is allow the Medicare program to negotiate down the price of medicines. That’s a really good step on the way towards lowering the price here in the US.
VALLAS: You mentioned it a couple of points in the conversation so far that there’s this huge gulf between what it costs to produce these medicines in many cases and what their charging for them and setting the rates even in arbitrary ways. Is there a role for transparency in pricing versus costs and could that actually be part of the solution here as well?
QUIGLEY: I think transparency is definitely another step in the direction of the solution here. We have a lot of really exciting stuff, Rebecca, going on in the states. The state governments are feeling the pressure of drug pricing partly from, state lawmakers are hearing it from their constituents and partly the states are really struggling with their Medicaid budgets because they’re paying so much for their medicines so they’re pushing legislation that is often times called transparency legislation which is just ok pharma, you’re charging us, meaning the state governments not to mention the citizens these huge dollars, tell us what it costs you to manufacture these medicines. Tell us what you’re actually spending on research. How much are you spending on marketing which by most measures they’re spending more money on marketing than they are on research. Tell us about that and then we can make some decisions about what we should be paying. And the industry is really resisting it for good reasons, they’ve got secrets they don’t want to disclose. So transparency legislation is really a good step on the way towards a more lasting big picture fix.
VALLAS: And then lastly as we think big and bold here as opposed to some of the more incremental stuff that sometimes gets discussed which is really important and may present some of the most immediate and most likely opportunities for progress but you strike me as a guy who likes to think big and likes to think bold. You’ve talked a lot about the monopoly rights to life sustaining medications and what a violation of human rights that really is just in and of itself. Is there a path you see to breaking up those kinds of monopolies and preventing them from being the business model here?
QUIGLEY: I think absolutely, absolutely Rebecca. That really is the big long term fix is that we should not be giving monopoly rights, patent rights to life essential goods, to a corporation that is completely devoted to making as much money as possible on that life essential good. And the reason this is very possible is because we didn’t use to do it this way. The Bayh-Dole Act is only a 1980 piece of legislation. The big international agreement, the TRIPS agreement is a 1994 trade agreement from the World Trade Organization. This is not generations and generations of precedent that we have to overcome. In fact for most of human history, across cultural and faith traditions we have treated medicines as a public good, something you cannot take a monopoly patent on. You should have competition for the lowest available price. And the medicines don’t cost that much to manufacture. We got to figure out how to pay for the research but we already do spend so much money on research now and if you take away the monopoly patents we can replace every penny the private industry spends on research with better, more focused on health research less focused on profit research. We’ve just got to get rid of these monopolies in the middle.
VALLAS: Now you are I mentioned up top a clinical professor in a health and human rights clinic in a law school. How did you come to be involved with and actually to be involved in the launch of PFAM — People of Faith for Access to Medicines and what is that about and what does it do?
QUIGLEY: Well so my day job is I teach in the health and human rights clinic at Indiana University Law School in Indianapolis, Indiana. And our law students take on their first ever cases representing poor people in our communities in Central Indiana on a variety of issues but it’s oftentimes access to health care, access to a living wage, access to employment, access to housing. But often times what we find is people can’t afford their medicines. People can’t afford their asthma medicines, people can’t afford their insulin medicines or their blood pressure medicines. And what was really striking about that to me Rebecca is I have a background where I’ve done some work with folks who are advocating for human rights in Haiti and in Kenya, they have the same problems. This is an international problem that we see right here in our own community and it does trace back to this access to medicines question. So I started doing a little more research and writing about it and working with great groups like Public Citizen and Doctors Without Borders and [INAUDIBLE] International doing great work but what we found is that there’s A, not a whole lot of grassroots activism around access to medicines even though it’s effecting all of the folks in our communities and B, the faith community cared about this but wasn’t completely plugged into it. And so we did create this organization, People of Faith for Access to Medicines to try to put the two together. This really robust secular access to medicines movement, people who are enormously expert about what to do to fix this and the faith community which cares about access to healthcare, has a deep long community across all faith and moral traditions that this is not a commodity, health care should not be a commodity, it’s a human right, it’s a mandate on all of us to make sure that every sick person in our community gets access to the care they need and we’re trying to put the two together. And so far it’s been working really great because this is an easy conversation to have for people of all moral and faith traditions. No of course people who have Type 1 Diabetes shouldn’t go without insulin, of course people who have cancer shouldn’t die because they can’t get access to medicines. Of course that’s not an appropriate way of doing things. Let’s fix it.
VALLAS: In the last minute or so that I have with you if there is one thing that people could do in this moment if they want to take action, if they want to be part of change on this issue, what could they do?
QUIGLEY: I think that we would love to be a resource for that. Our website is PFFAMRx.org and we’d be happy to connect you with a lot of time the answer is what’s happening in your own state. Most states have legislators who are pushing for transparency, starting to build the movement, it’s building at the grassroots community local level. We’d be happy to connect you and your congregations or your community groups to what’s going on both local and nationally.
VALLAS: PFAMRx.org and we’ll have that on our nerdy syllabus page on Medium as well. I’ve been speaking with Fran Quigley, he coordinates People of Faith for Access to Medicines, PFAM and he’s also a clinical professor at the health and human rights clinic at Indiana University’s School of Law. Fran, thank you so much for taking the time.
QUIGLEY: Thank you Rebecca, appreciate it.
VALLAS: And that does it for this week’s episode of Off Kilter, powered by the Center for American Progress Action Fund. I’m your host, Rebecca Vallas, the show is produced each week by Will Urquhart. Find us on Facebook and Twitter @offkiltershow and you can find us on the airwaves on the Progressive Voices Network and the WeAct Radio Network or anytime as a podcast on iTunes. See you next week.
This program aired on May 10th, 2018