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Oregon Democrat says next steps are drug prices, individual insurance coverage; also, leaders must cool rhetoric on North Korea.

U.S. Sen. Ron Wyden credits vocal opposition by the public as the key factor in turning back Republican attempts to repeal or weaken expanded health care under the 2010 law championed by Democratic President Barack Obama.

The Oregon Democrat spoke Wednesday, Aug. 9, at a town hall meeting attended by more than 200 people at Hazelbrook Middle School in Tualatin.

"It sent a message to me and I hope everybody in America that people power — even when you count it out and you say you cannot beat the powerful — still shows that in America, power comes from the bottom up," he said.

Wyden called for a widespread public outcry at a Hillsboro town hall meeting May 6, two days after the House passed a repeal bill on a party-line vote and sent it to the Senate.

But Republican John McCain of Arizona, who has been diagnosed with brain cancer, joined two other Republicans and all 48 in the Democratic caucus to reject an attempt in a dramatic early-morning vote in the Senate on July 28.

"Everybody said it could not be done," Wyden said.

"It was all of your calls, your texts and tweets, and those were people from all across the country who ensured that we stopped a bad bill. Now we're going to talk about what we do from now on in order to build on and strengthen the Affordable Care Act."

Among the next steps, Wyden said, are to require drug makers to disclose reasons for extraordinary increases in prices, allow reimportation of drugs as proposed by Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, and restore the ability of the federal government to negotiate Medicare drug prices with manufacturers. Congress took away that authority when it extended prescription drug coverage under Medicare in 2003.

Wyden also has said Congress can take steps to shore up the individual insurance market, where premiums have been soaring.

He is the top Democrat on the Senate Finance Committee, which writes federal health care financing legislation.

Wyden did not explicitly endorse it, but he told activists that the Affordable Care Act — the 2010 law unofficially known as Obamacare — does allow a state or group of states to set up a system under which government pays all medical bills, akin to Medicare.

Vermont abandoned its attempt to do so. California lawmakers are considering it, but have yet to decide how to meet its $400 billion price tag. Oregon lawmakers have considered it but it has not advanced beyond a committee hearing.

Wyden said given Republican majorities in Congress and a Republican president, it's unlikely to advance on the federal level.

Three Oregon Democrats are among 116 cosponsors of a Medicare-for-all bill (HR 676) in the House.

The Tualatin meeting was Wyden's 840th town hall since he was elected to the Senate in January 1996. He usually has one annually in each of Oregon's 36 counties; his total so far this is 59, five of them in Washington County.

On North Korea, Wyden said, "I think what our country needs and deserves is sober, tough diplomacy and not reckless rhetoric and one-ups."

His reference was to an exchange between President Donald Trump, who warned Tuesday that North Korea would be met with "fire and fury" if it continued with development of nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles, and a response from North Korea that the U.S. Pacific possession of Guam could be the target of an attack.

"The point is that all of this stuff spirals and escalates in a hurry unless you use all the tools of a successful foreign policy," said Wyden, who sits on the Senate Intelligence Committee.

Wyden's suggestion was for an understanding by the United States, China and Russia under which North Korea verifies it has stopped further weapons development and the United States and its allies stop military exercises in the region.

Wyden said Trump had the right idea of focusing on China, North Korea's neighbor and largest trading partner, to put pressure on its leader Kim Jong Un.

"But the president put all his eggs in that basket, rather than looking for something broader based," he said.

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Adds that Wyden is the top Democrat on the Senate Finance Committee, which has jurisdiction over health care financing.
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