Klobuchar: Obama ‘missed opportunity’ to address drug costs

Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Amy Klobuchar said not doing more to address prescription drug prices in the Affordable Care Act was a “missed opportunity” by former President Barack Obama.

Klobuchar, in an interview with CNN’s Poppy Harlow that aired Friday morning, laid out policy positions on regulating large tech companies, addressing prescription drug prices and tackling the opioid epidemic. In all of her answers, however, Klobuchar said either the former Democratic president or some of her colleagues in Congress did not grasp the issues early on.

Klobuchar, one of more than a dozen Democrats running for president in 2020, has made prescription drug prices a paramount issue in both her Senate work and in her campaign. And her comments about Obama follow an earlier statement in which the Minnesota Democrat said high drug prices have been neglected “under any administration” in the last two decades.

“I see it as a missed opportunity, but now we must move forward,” she said. “And that’s why I think both parties have been guilty of not bringing these up, but there’s one party in charge right now and that’s the Republican Party.”

Klobuchar voted for the Affordable Care Act, Obama’s sweeping healthcare law that passed the Senate in 2009, but — like others in the Democratic caucus — now believes that changes could be made to update the law.

Prescription drug prices were not nearly the spotlight issue that they are now, but even Democrats at the time that the law was passed acknowledged more could have been done in the law to address health care issues.

“I would have liked to see this be part of the Affordable Care Act. But it wasn’t, in part, because they were working with the pharmaceutical companies on the premiums issue. They were working with them on getting support for the Affordable Care Act because they knew that pharma could stop that bill in its tracks,” she said.

Obama has met with a series of 2020 candidates, including Klobuchar, and made defending his health care law a central theme of his post-presidency political work.

Klobuchar announced her 2020 run with a February speech in Minneapolis and has since focused considerable attention on making key policy areas she has pushed in the Senate — namely high prescription drug prices, fighting the opioid epidemic and regulation large technology companies — part of her 2020 message.

“I think there are members of Congress that had their eyes closed because they don’t want to deal with this,” Klobuchar told CNN about regulating technology companies.

Ahead of launching her 2020 bid, Klobuchar introduced a bill in February to modernize anti-trust enforcement rules, saying that these rules affect “more than just price and output — it’s part of our everyday lives, from the price of groceries at the market to the cost of prescription drugs.”

Sen. Elizabeth Warren went further earlier this month when she suggested breaking up companies like Amazon, Google and Facebook.

“Today’s big tech companies have too much power — too much power over our economy, our society, and our democracy,” the Massachusetts Democrat said. “That’s why my administration will make big, structural changes to the tech sector to promote more competition.”

Klobuchar said she agreed with Warren.

“Some of this is worth looking at, in terms of she’s getting at the fact that there are conflicts, when they own companies that are being actually featured on their own platforms,” the Minnesota Democrat said.

But she also attempted to take a more measured approach, telling CNN that she would only support breaking up companies if it is warranted.

“How I would approach it is a little different,” Klobuchar said.

“If, in fact, the law shows that they should be broken up and it may well do that,” she added. “One, you try to change the laws so they’re better suited for what we’re dealing with, for things like a company being the only source for all of the companies underneath it.”

On opioids, Klobuchar said that when she worked with Democrat Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse of Rhode Island and Republicans Sens. Rob Portman of Ohio and Kelly Ayotte of New Hampshire to “put this bill forward for a blueprint” on tackling the opioid crisis “other senators (were) kind of patting us on the head saying, ‘Oh yeah.'”

The opioid crisis is one area that Klobuchar, who proudly touts her work with other Republicans, has found success with President Donald Trump. To date, the Republican president has signed three bills dealing with opioids that Klobuchar has worked on.

“I think they understand now,” Klobuchar said when asked if Congress understands the crisis.

Klobuchar named Republican Sen. Chuck Grassley of Iowa as one of the senators with whom she can work on this issue.

“Chuck Grassley’s a bit of a maverick,” Klobuchar said with a laugh, giving him a nickname that harkened back to the late Sen. John McCain. “He’s now chair of the Finance Committee, so he should be in a place to bring these bills up.”