By Curt Peterson
RUTLAND—Congressman Peter Welch began his July 30 campaign tour in Rutland County with a visit to the newly renovated Emergency Services Facility at Rutland Regional Medical Center.
Welch is Vermont’s only representative in the United States Congress, and he is up for reelection this November.
Emergency Room Director Thomas Rounds led Welch through the hospital’s newly-renovated ER facility. He said they can accommodate two helicopters at the same time, and described renovations to the psychological section.
“In case they might ‘act out,’ we’ve done everything for the safety of the psych patient and caregivers,” Rounds told Welch. “We try to make the patients as comfortable as possible. Some of them are here for up to a week waiting for evaluations and care.”
Rounds said the facility is a model for other hospitals in the state.
New RRMC CEO Claudio Forte introduced Welch to the audience of 50 people in a large conference room.
Welch, who once served on the Board at Mt. Ascutney Hospital in Windsor, said America’s challenge is to make healthcare “accessible, sustainable and affordable”.
He said the Affordable Healthcare Act, a.k.a. “Obamacare,” has gone a long way toward meeting that challenge, in the face of what he called a “dis-spiriting debate” in Congress.
“We were asked to vote to kill Obamacare dozens of times. The only alternative Republicans offered would have taken healthcare away from 24 million Americans,” Welch said. “We seem to have lost our way down in Washington.”
“Price-gouging” by pharmaceutical companies, Welch told listeners, is a major problem.
“They develop great drugs, and are awarded patents that provide a monopoly on them,” Welch said. “They can charge hospitals whatever they want, and there’s no competition.”
He said, “Reasonably-priced pharma products could make the difference between red ink and black ink” for many hospitals, keeping them viable, adding ceded profits represented by the discount amount to less than 3 percent of overall pharma profits.
Decades old ACT 340B is under attack from the pharma companies, Welch said. “Manufacturers participating in Medicaid agree to provide outpatient drugs to covered [non-profit] entities at significantly reduced prices,” according to hrsa.gov.
Pharma wants to provide discounts to individuals instead of to the non-profit institutions, Welch said, claiming hospitals use the savings on other expenses.
Welch’s spokesperson later told the Mountain Times the drug companies are hoping to slash the Medicaid drug discount program.
Under Medicare, the federal government is legally prohibited from negotiating discounts on drugs.
“My wife had cancer,” Welch said. “I get it. These drugs are important. But pharmaceutical companies are abusing the pricing power patents give them.”
Asked what he thought about increasing the minimum wage, Welch said it was illogical to ask people to work a full week for less money than they need to live, and make up for it with food stamps, subsidies and welfare.
“Last year the percentage of profits made in the United States was the highest it’s been since the Great Depression,” Welch said. “At the same time, the percent of profits that went to labor was the lowest during the same period.”
From the audience Rutland State Representative Mary Howard said she and her colleagues heard 72 testimonies before passing a bipartisan minimum wage increase bill, only to see Gov. Phil Scott veto it.
Responding to a question about the tax cut bill signed by President Trump, Welch said it had two effects.
“Its goal was to increase re-investment in the economy,” he said. “But in reality, it inspired the largest stock buyback activity in history.”
And, it added a trillion dollars to the national deficit over 10 years,” he continued, “which put the brakes on much-needed investment in infrastructure.”
He said Republican leadership in Washington is planning to finance the loss in revenue by cutting Social Security and Medicare right after the midterm elections.
“The American people are going to want a reset button,” Welch said.
Welch later toured the Omya plant in Florence, and Thompson Dairy on Route 7.
Photo by Curt Peterson
Congressman Peter Welch toured Rutland County, meeting with various business owners, July 30.