Sunday, Jan. 9, 2022 | 2 a.m.
Economists estimate the COVID-19 pandemic caused 200,000 more small businesses than usual to shut their doors, never to reopen.
As the owner of Expo Ease, a tradeshow services provider, I experienced the effects of the pandemic personally. I’m grateful that my business survived, but it’s a long road to get back to where we were before the pandemic.
President Joe Biden’s Build Back Better Act, passed by House Democrats, is an important step forward. This package is jam-packed with measures like more affordable health care, paid leave and accessible child care that will improve life for millions of people, no matter where they work or where they live. Many of those policies would help small-business owners like me be more competitive, retain staff and increase flexibility to juggle work, family and other priorities. But the impact of this bill would be much greater than just the sum of the individual policies.
This legislation enacts structural changes that would do more to level the playing field for working families and small businesses than anything we’ve seen in the past 50 years. If Congress passes this legislation, we won’t just have better services and programs, we’ll have a much more fair economy — one in which the rich and corporations are accountable to the same rules as the rest of us.
The prescription drug reform proposal in Build Back Better is a great example. For years, drug corporations have enjoyed special status and monopoly privileges to set and raise their prices anytime they want. Back in 2003, industry lobbyists famously succeeded in helping to pass a policy that created Medicare Part D, the prescription drug program for seniors, with a legal prohibition on price negotiations.
The fact that drug corporations don’t have to negotiate prices for seniors’ prescriptions is a key reason why their industry is the most profitable in the country and why the price of prescription drugs is rising faster than any other medical good or service.
It’s a terrible deal for consumers and patients. They get stuck paying whatever the drug corporations want to charge. This year alone, Pharma companies have raised the price on over 1,000 drugs. Most of the increases exceed the rate of inflation.
Small businesses play by different rules. We routinely have to negotiate for just about everything and we have to compete with counterparts by passing on savings to customers. A small business that price gouges in the way that Big Pharma does would soon find itself without a clientele.
Unfortunately, patients who need insulin, cancer drugs or arthritis medicines don’t have the option to walk away. They have to pay whatever exorbitant price the drug corporation charges. And because brand name drugs have few competitors, plus patents that give corporations decades of exclusivity, patients have limited access to alternative drugs — they are captives to the brand.
When drug corporations don’t negotiate, we all pay. Medicaid and the Veterans Health Administration, which negotiate for prices, pay half of what drug corporations charge Medicare. Meanwhile, Medicare enrollees pay an unlimited amount out of pocket for medicines, premiums keep going up and taxpayers are footing the bill for Big Pharma’s price gouging.
Build Back Better would end this special treatment and finally allow Medicare to negotiate for lower prices like other government programs do. The policy is projected to save taxpayers nearly $500 billion over 10 years while lowering prices for seniors, people with private insurance and employers. Lowering drug prices through Medicare negotiations in the Lower Drug Costs Now Act, a component of Build Back Better Act, saves everyone money and makes the system more fair.
Small-business owners don’t need a bunch of special breaks and rules to build their companies. Instead, we should have fair rules for everyone, including the most well-off. Build Back Better could finally put us on the path to an economy that works for all of us, rather than just for the privileged few.
Peter Frigeri is a longtime member of the Las Vegas business community.