Update 11:45 a.m. Thursday: Donald Trump, as we suspected he might, went after Martin Shkreli on Wednesday, saying the embattled pharmaceutical executive "looks like a spoiled brat." Trump added: "That guy is nothing. He's zero. He's nothing. He ought to be ashamed of himself." Other Republicans still have yet to weigh in. The below post is from Tuesday.
News that a drug company bought a potentially lifesaving drug and quickly jacked up the price by some 4,000 percent is commanding the nation's attention and casting what health-care advocates say is a much-needed spotlight on skyrocketing prescription drug costs.
Hillary Clinton took advantage of the news to slam prescription drug "price gouging" and highlight her new plan to cap monthly prescription drug payments to $250 a person. "Nobody in America should have to choose between buying the medicine they need and paying rent," she said.
But Republicans, by contrast, have largely been silent. And that's a big mistake.
Clinton's paying-the-rent line could work just as well if delivered by Republican presidential candidates. These GOP hopefuls could use the same argument to counter a few harmful narratives about their party -- including that they're only focused on repealing the Affordable Care Act and that they are the party of the wealthy, not the middle class.
Right now, those two narratives combine for a handy attack line for Democrats. As Clinton previewed her plan at a rally on Monday, she made sure to note that congressional Republicans have voted more than 50 times to repeal Obamacare. And you needn't look far in the rearview to see when the GOP's lack of connection with the middle class was a big problem.
Sure, GOP presidential candidates, such as Sen. Marco Rubio (Fla.) and Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, have presented alternatives to the 2010 health-care reform law, but for whatever reason, these proposals haven't gained much traction. (Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker (R), who dropped out of the race Monday, also had an alternative.)
Jumping into the prescription drug debate could help elevate those candidates' plans, because prescription drug prices is one of the few health-care issues where Americans agree that the status quo needs to change. In fact, 76 percent of Americans said dealing with prescription drug prices should be Washington's No. 1 health-care priority, according to an April poll from the Kaiser Family Foundation.
Of course, addressing the issue and coming up with a viable proposal that is palatable to your party are two different things. John Rother, president and CEO of the nonprofit health-care reform group National Coalition on Health Care, points out that prescription drug price reform is like a layered onion of complicated policy debates. It puts everything from innovation to how much Americans should pay for their health care to broader health-care policy on the table, while risking drawing the ire of powerful pharmaceutical companies. (As The Washington Post's Anne Gearan notes, policymakers writing the Affordable Care Act largely sidestepped prescription drug costs for that very reason.)
"There's a lot going on here," Rother said, "and it's not just black and white."
But that doesn't mean Republicans should shy away from the debate. Talking about how to make prescription drugs more affordable also fits nicely with some of the populist rhetoric we're hearing among the party's presidential candidates.
Exhibit A: GOP front-runner Donald Trump is regularly praised by liberal leaders, such as Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio (D), for his call to raise taxes on the wealthy. Want to out-Trump Trump? Why not start talking about an issue that matters deeply to so many Americans?
The final reason Republicans should jump into the prescription drug cost debate is perhaps the most obvious: Health-care reform experts caution that the problem is becoming so big that it's going to be impossible to ignore.
"I think this is a wake-up call that these consumer pocketbook issues are now taking over in terms of what people are concerned about," Rother said.
Letting voters know that you're aware of their problems should be reason enough for a party to address an issue. That this issue happens to come at a time when the GOP would very much like to demonstrate its own brand of populism makes it almost sinful to ignore.