Culpeper Star Exponent: Spanberger lauds House vote to cut drug costs, improve Medicare benefits

CULPEPER STAR EXPONENT, CLINT SCHEMMER

The House passed major legislation Thursday, including provisions from Rep. Abigail Spanberger, that would lower drug costs for families and strengthen Medicare benefits for seniors in Central Virginia.

The Lower Drug Costs Now Act, cosponsored by Spanberger and passed on a bipartisan 230–192 vote, would empower Medicare to negotiate directly with drug companies, making reduced prices available to Americans with private insurance.

The bill, dubbed H.R. 3, would expand Medicare benefits to include dental, vision, and hearing coverage, and set a $2,000 out-of-pocket limit on prescription drug costs for individuals on Medicare.

Now, the law prohibits Medicare from negotiating for lower prices.

In the past decade, rising drug costs have created huge financial uncertainty for seniors and families across the nation. Between 2012 and 2017, the average annual cost of prescription drug treatments in Virginia increased by nearly 60 percent. Virginians’ annual income increased only by 8.5 percent.

Since taking office in January, Spanberger has made it a top priority to lower drug costs for residents of Virginia’s 7th Congressional District. She has heard about the issue time and again from constituents, and in 2018 when she was campaigning for the job.

“It’s clear that Central Virginians are being gouged on their lifesaving prescription medications,” she said Thursday in a statement. “And for too long, Congress’ hands have been tied by the pharmaceutical lobby—and lawmakers have refused to take action.

The bill would deliver a “common-sense provision” letting Medicare bargain for lower prices, crack down on drug companies’ abusive practices, and help reverse decades of unfair price hikes for medications to treat common conditions such as diabetes, breast cancer, and arthritis.

She urged the U.S. Senate to take up the legislation immediately.

In the 7th District, more than 96,000 people are enrolled in a Medicare Part D plan; nearly 614,000 people have private health insurance.

The Lower Drug Costs Now Act would cut costs for those families, seniors and individuals with chronic illnesses, Spanberger’s office said. It could decrease arthritis medication prices in Virginia from $40,000 to $10,000 per year.

Virginians with diabetes would see big price cuts. The bill would lower the cost of the insulin medication NovoLOG Flexpen, for instance, by about 76 percent, from $19,800 to $4,800 per year, the legislator’s staff said. Insulin costs per patient have nearly doubled from 2012 to 2016.

The bill is also expected to save taxpayers about $500 billion over the next 10 years, reinvesting that sum into fighting the substance abuse and addiction crisis and doing cutting-edge research to discover cures and treatments, Spanberger’s office said.

In October, the House voted 403-0 to pass Spanberger’s bipartisan legislation to make prescription drugs less costly and hold pharmacy benefit managers accountable for price increases.

In remarks Thursday on the House floor, Speaker Nancy Pelosi credited the House freshmen, including Spanberger, with taking the lead to deliver on their promise in last year’s election to lower prescription drug prices.

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