By Michell K. McIntyre
In the last year of the Obama administration many important worker protections are finally emerging – a stronger health standard for exposure to silica dust that will prevent more than 600 deaths from an agonizing disease, a fiduciary rule that makes financial advisors act in the best interest of their clients (shouldn’t they already be doing this?) and a soon-to-be released updated overtime pay safeguard that means millions of hardworking Americans will get a raise.
Worker advocates, economists, and unions have been working with the administration and U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) for years to make this change a reality. The expected rule will modernize and restore the protections of overtime pay that will result in millions of salaried employees being paid for the work they do beyond the standard 40 hours per week.
The middle class is working longer and harder than ever while corporate profits are skyrocketing, yet incomes remain stagnant. It’s not just political rhetoric that over the last 40 years the rules of the game have become rigged in favor of big business and the 1 percent.
Vijay Das is the health policy advocate for Public Citizen’s Congress Watch division, and today CNN published Congress, don’t fall for Big Pharma’s gimmick, his op-ed about how much the Big Pharma lobby is costing the American public.
“Pharma Bro” Martin Shkreli was labeled the “most hated man on the Internet” after he raised the price of an HIV/AIDs medication’s price by 5,000 percent.
His smug prioritization of profits over the people who are prescribed the medication brought to the forefront a conversation that has been happening over pharmacy lines and kitchen counters for years: what to do about the high cost of drugs. There has been an explosion of costs not only for new treatments, but also older medicines that work perfectly well. The high price of prescription drugs has affected the everyday choices of Americans as long as the corner drug store has existed.
It’s easy for me to read Vijay’s article and feel personally affronted – I still talk to my grandmother very often, and she anguishes over how expensive her blood pressure medication is. Thirty percent of Americans are known to skimp on their medicines in order to cut down on costs, but when life-or-death medications are out of reach, the public starts to speak up.
Rather than simply charging less, the industry is pushing for watered-down safeguards it claims will lower development costs and get patented drugs to market sooner and cheaper. It will deploy 1,200 lobbyists to try to pass the 21st Century Cures Act. This bill has already passed the U.S. House of Representatives and will have its companion bill introduced in the Senate.
The New York Times has published a devastating three-part exposé by reporters Jessica Silver-Greenberg, Robert Gebeloff and Michael Corkery showing the gory details of how corporations use the fine print of take-it-or-leave-it terms to deny consumer rights.
These forced arbitration clauses block ripped-off consumers from holding corporations accountable in a court. Instead, consumers are routed into the rigged system of private arbitration, where decisions are in the hands of corporations’ handpicked arbitrators instead of impartial judges. These arbitrators, who depend on the corporations who set these terms for repeat business, have every incentive to rule against consumers. Their rulings are final – they are not required to allow appeals. Appallingly, there is no public record of these decisions, and they do not have follow precedent or the law.
Even worse, forced arbitration clauses buried in the fine print increasingly ban class-action lawsuits. This makes these terms a “get out of jail free card” for corporations with large numbers of customers, who can get away with small-dollar rip-offs. Customers of a company that uses a forced arbitration clause to ban class actions have no means for collective action against unfair charges.
Take action today: Tell Congress to ban forced arbitration.
Amit Narang, regulatory policy advocate for Public Citizen’s Congress Watch division, penned an op-ed for The Hill to bust the tenacious myth that blames regulatory “inefficiency” for agency delays.
It is Congress, not the agencies, that deserve the blame for delays. Narang makes his point with a telling example:
In what can only be described as the height of absurdity, The Washington Post reported that the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) has taken an astonishing two years to propose a rule that simply removes the term “midget” as one of the acceptable designations for small raisins. Adding to the absurdity is the fact that it is not at all the USDA’s fault that this process is taking so long — and there is nothing the agency can do to speed it up.
As the story notes, the real reason the USDA has taken so long is because, like all federal agencies, it has had to comply with a rule development process that is a labyrinth of complex and redundant legal and analytical requirements. Congress has only added to these requirements over the years without ever removing any of them or streamlining the process. The result is a broken regulatory system where agencies are unable to produce regulations in a timely and efficient manner and where government waste and inefficiency abound.