Ex-Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz says he would improve Obamacare, force Big Pharma to negotiate drug prices with the government

Key Points
  • Former Starbucks CEO and independent presidential hopeful Howard Schultz said he would "refine and amend" Obamacare in order to ensure that more Americans could afford to buy health insurance.
  • Schultz suggests bringing all stakeholders to the table, making corporations "do more for their employees" and having the government to negotiate directly with drug makers.
  • Several of his proposals echo President Barack Obama's strategy for passing the Affordable Care Act, while others risk running into legislative and legal roadblocks.
Howard Schultz, CEO, Starbucks
Michael Nagle | Bloomberg | Getty Images

Former Starbucks CEO and independent presidential hopeful Howard Schultz offered a glimpse Wednesday of how he would "refine and amend" Obamacare in order to ensure that more Americans can afford to buy health insurance.

During an interview on MSNBC's "Morning Joe," Schultz also said that if he became president he would force the pharmaceutical industry to negotiate drug prices with the federal government.

Both the Obama and Trump administrations have proposed having the government use its massive buying power to directly negotiate lower drug prices with the pharmaceutical industry.

"We have to realize what's wrong with the political system is that pharma has as many special interests as the NRA [National Rifle Association], as the teachers union. Let's get rid of that," Schultz said.

Schultz suggested he is the person who would be able to get that done.

"As an independent person. I am not playing by those rules anymore. I am going to break the logjam [and say], 'Pharma, you know what you're going to do? You're going to negotiate with the government and we'll have complete transparency. If you don't, we are coming after you,'" Schultz said.

But as more than one president in recent years has discovered, that is much easier said than done.

A 2003 funding bill explicitly prohibits the federal government's massive Medicare program, which provides health coverage for primarily older Americans, from negotiating directly with drug manufacturers.

In the 15 years since that ban was passed, several efforts to repeal it have failed in Congress.

Schultz said in the interview that, "Every American should have the right for affordable health care. Absolutely."

And he said he supported the Affordable Care Act, as Obamacare is formally known.

But he singled out the problem of rising health insurance premiums as an issue with Obamacare that needs fixing.

"I thought the Affordable Care Act was the right thing to do," Schultz said. "Now refine it, amend it, specifically because premiums have gone up."

Pressed by "Morning Joe" host Joe Scarborough about exactly how he would keep premiums from growing further, Schultz offered few specifics.

"We bring in people smarter than myself with skills and experience beyond [Senate Majority Leader] Mitch McConnell and [House Speaker] Nancy Pelosi in the room, get pharma in the room, get private enterprise in the room, and realize we all need to have skin in the game," Schultz said, referring to the pharmaceutical industry.

The strategy of having top-notch expertise and getting buy-in from major plans in health care was central to the Obama administration's push to pass the ACA through Congress in 2009 and 2010.

Panels of experts hammered out the details of the bill for months, And the final product purported to contain something for every stakeholder.

Insurance companies were promised millions of new customers. Patients were promised lower costs and help buying insurance. Hospitals were promised fewer emergency room visits. And pharmaceutical companies were promised a big influx of newly insured patients who would be able to afford their medications.

Some of these pledges were partially met.

But the sharp gains in the number of Americans with health insurance seen in the first years of Obamacare have been reversed as the Trump administration and Republicans in Congress took several steps to undercut the law.

Howard Schultz: The Democrats have moved too far to the left

Schultz said corporations "need to do more for their employees" when it comes to health care, citing his own tenure at coffee giant Starbucks. But he didn't say how, exactly, private companies could be enticed, or forced, to "do more."

Since announcing his interest in running for president as an independent in an interview that aired Sunday on CBS' "60 Minutes," Schultz has been on a three-day media blitz, appearing on several cable channels a day. He has also drawn the ire of Democrats across the country, who worry that an independent candidate could split the anti-Trump vote in 2020.