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Maya Rockeymoore Cummings speaks during funeral services for her husband, the late U.S. Rep. Elijah Cummings, in October in Baltimore. Legislation on drug pricing the late Congressman pushed is expected to pass the House this week.
Maya Rockeymoore Cummings speaks during funeral services for her husband, the late U.S. Rep. Elijah Cummings, in October in Baltimore. Legislation on drug pricing the late Congressman pushed is expected to pass the House this week. (Julio Cortez/AP)

After the devastating election loss of 2016, my husband Elijah Cummings and I talked about our worries for our city, our state, our country and the world. We talked about our deep concern about what life would be like under President Donald Trump. As the new year approached, another big question dominated our conversation: should we attend Mr. Trump’s Inauguration?

Elijah ultimately decided we would attend because he believed in the importance of our shared American traditions and that a member of Congress in his position should witness the swearing in of a new president, regardless of political party. He believed the co-equal branches of government should respect each other, even when their policy differences couldn’t be greater.

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After President Trump was sworn in, we gathered in Statuary Hall with other members of Congress, former heads of state, along with the families of Mr. Trump and Mr. Pence. Elijah used the opportunity to talk with the new president and pressed for his highest priority: making prescription drugs cheaper for the millions of Americans who rely on life-saving medicines. In a painful twist, I would be back in Statuary Hall just three years later as my husband lay in state.

Elijah worked for years to change the law so that Medicare could use its massive purchasing power to negotiate lower prices for prescription medicines directly with the drug companies who are gouging Americans. He wanted to ensure people wouldn’t go bankrupt trying to pay for the prescriptions they needed whether they have Medicare or private insurance.

President Trump listened to Elijah that day in Statuary Hall, and even met with him later under the pretense that he too cared about prescription drug affordability. It was a great disappointment to Elijah that Mr. Trump was all talk and no action; not doing a single thing in three years to make medicines cheaper.

Drug company executives and shareholders continue to stockpile cash profits as drug prices skyrocket and middle-class Americans — some who are children with allergies, seniors fighting infections, diabetics who need insulin and women planning their pregnancies — are forced into a brutal choice: can they afford the medicine their families need and still pay all the other bills? These drug companies should have nothing to do with our personal healthcare decisions.

Prescription drugs prolonged my husband’s life and they are currently protecting mine. His cancer diagnosis came decades ago and my preventive double mastectomy was just last month, and we were so grateful to have access to the medicines needed to help us stay alive. During one of his hospital stays about two years ago, Elijah was talking with a fellow physical therapy patient he’d become friends with. She was about to be released from the hospital. When Elijah congratulated her, she broke down crying saying she was afraid to be released because while she could afford her treatment, she couldn’t afford the cure. Shamefully, the cure is out of reach for too many Americans, especially women. Too many people can’t afford the prescription drugs or even the time off from work to help with healing. That needs to change.

Today is a good start.

This week, the House of Representatives is expected to pass H.R. 3, a bill that has been renamed the Elijah E. Cummings Lower Drug Costs Now Act. Elijah would have been proud that his colleagues placed his name on this important piece of legislation that allows Medicare to negotiate prescription drug prices and puts a $2,000 annual cap on out-of-pocket costs for seniors, among its other provisions. My heart aches that he won’t be there to see his colleagues vote for this life saving legislation.

While passage in the House is an important milestone, none of us should forget that the Republican-dominant U.S. Senate must pass it and President Trump must sign it in order for Elijah’s legislation to become law.

Perhaps the holiday spirit or the memory of Elijah will soften the hearts of Mr. Trump and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and cause them to pass a bill that will help Americans save $500 billion in lower drug costs over ten years. If not, voters can take their grievances to the polls in 2020 and elect lawmakers who care about helping struggling families who are making tough decisions about their health and their bank accounts.

Maya Rockeymoore Cummings (maya@mayaforcongress.com) is the widow of the late Congressman Elijah E. Cummings. A policy consultant and former Chair of the Maryland Democratic Party, she is a candidate for Congress in Maryland’s 7th Congressional District.

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