Commentary: Supporting Virginia seniors, not Pharmaceutical Companies

FREDERICKSBURG FREE LANCE-STAR, REP. ABIGAIL SPANBERGER

RIGHT NOW, a 66-year-old woman on Medicare living in the Fredericksburg area may pay more than $12,000 in annual out-of-pocket costs for the medication she needs to fight breast cancer. Our neighbors living with multiple sclerosis have seen the cost of the medications they rely on to treat relapses of their condition rise from $40 in 2001 to $40,000 in 2022. A 70-year-old senior on a typical Medicare Part D plan could spend more than $1,100 out of pocket on 12 refills of insulin to manage his Type 2 diabetes. And these prices are going up.

For decades, price increases have shown no signs of stopping. And large, multinational pharmaceutical companies have shown no signs of changing their tune.

The prices these companies set for prescription drugs have far outpaced the rate of inflation every year from 2006 to 2020. Just this year, pharmaceutical companies have already hiked the price of more than 1,000 medications—with little to no explanation to American consumers. A 2020 congressional investigation revealed that pharmaceutical giant Amgen had repeatedly hiked prices on a common arthritis medication—just so the company would hit revenue targets and trigger bonuses for executives. According to the report, the drug’s price had risen 486% by 2020 compared to when it was first available. And the price has continued to rise since then.

I’ve heard heartbreaking stories from Virginians about the impacts of these unnecessary price hikes. They deserve actions that will lower drug costs now more than ever.

Last month, I voted with my colleagues in the U.S. House and U.S. Senate to send new legislation—the Inflation Reduction Act—to the president’s desk. This new law’s provisions side with Virginia’s and America’s seniors, not the pharmaceutical companies that are contributing to inflation.

Virginia’s Medicare beneficiaries are paying thousands upon thousands of dollars every year for the prescription medication they need—in many cases the medication they need to survive. These high prices are forcing them to make difficult financial decisions.

This bill makes real progress in providing them with relief. The Inflation Reduction Act will cap out-of-pocket drug costs for Medicare beneficiaries at $2,000 per year beginning in 2025. And if you are a senior on Medicare who is living with diabetes, this legislation will cap your monthly insulin co-pay at $35 dollars beginning in January 2023. For seniors living on a fixed income, these savings will make a big difference for their budgets and peace of mind.

In conversations with Virginians, I also consistently hear about the need to give Medicare the power to negotiate drug prices.

Medicare has long been prohibited—by law—from negotiating the prices it pays to drugmakers for medications, meaning prices stay high for seniors. Pharmaceutical industry executives have been using this loophole to keep prices high and drive them even higher. This legislation will finally give Medicare the power to negotiate—an effective tool for lowering costs and saving Virginians money.

Alongside astronomical prescription drug price increases, Virginians have also seen their Medicare premiums sharply rise year after year. With no ability to push back, Medicare has been forced to pay high prices for prescription drugs and raise premiums to cover costs. By allowing the program to negotiate for lower prices, this legislation empowers Medicare to reduce costs and premiums for every Virginia senior who depends on the program.

But this law goes even further to lower costs for Medicare beneficiaries. Since arriving in Congress, I have heard from seniors who have had trouble affording the vaccinations they need to protect themselves. Now, the Inflation Reduction Act makes recommended vaccines—like the shingles vaccine—free under Medicare Part D beginning in January 2023.

Additionally, this law takes immediate actions to penalize the drug companies that are responsible for jacking up drug prices. Now, if companies increase the cost of their drugs more than the rate of inflation, they are required to cough up rebates to Medicare and give that money back to seniors. I’m proud to deliver this long overdue level of accountability.

No Virginian should be skipping a meal, canceling a trip to see their kids and grandkids, considering a bus trip to Canada, or missing a mortgage payment—just so they can afford their medication. The Inflation Reduction Act moves our Commonwealth substantially closer to a stronger, healthier, and more affordable future—one that benefits Virginia’s seniors, not just the pharmaceutical companies.

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