Seniors had their moment in the sun when President Biden unveiled his first infrastructure plan earlier this month. (The American Jobs Plan included an impressive $400 billion for improving senior care.) His new American Families Plan — dubbed “social infrastructure” by some — has less to offer seniors, focusing more on children and families. It includes more generous Affordable Care Act subsidies to help Americans afford Obamacare premiums, which would help near seniors (55-64) who are too young for Medicare. But the new plan does not include action on a crucial issue to older Americans: lowering the soaring cost of prescription drugs.
In his speech last night to a joint session of Congress, the President did make note of the prescription drug pricing issue:
“We all know how outrageously expensive drugs are in America. In fact, we pay the highest prescription drug prices of anywhere in the world right here in America… Let’s do what we talked about for all the years I was in Congress. Let’s give Medicare the power to save hundreds of billions of dollars by negotiating lower drug prescription prices.” – President Biden, 4/28/21
His acknowledgement and affirmation of the issue is important. Allowing Medicare to negotiate drug prices with Big Pharma is at the top of the list for Progressive Democrats and seniors’ advocates alike when it comes to drug pricing reform. But the White House has offered no specific plan.
Meanwhile, House Democrats have re-introduced the Elijah Cummings Lower Drug Costs Now Act (H.R. 3), which the Congressional Budget Office estimated would save the government some $400 billion in drug costs over ten years. (It also would expand Medicare to include coverage for basic hearing, vision, and dental care – a longtime priority for the National Committee and other seniors’ advocates.)
Advocates are understandably disappointed that the White House will not be pushing for prescription drug legislation right away. Exorbitant drug prices have a real impact on seniors living on fixed incomes, who cannot afford ever-rising costs at the pharmacy counter. According to Human Rights Watch:
Nearly 30 percent of adults in the US had not taken prescribed medication as recommended in the past year because of the cost. Instead of refilling expensive prescriptions, people skip doses or cut pills in half. – Human Rights Watch, 4/26/21
Skipping medications takes a staggering human toll. A 2020 study by West Health Policy Center estimated that the inability to fill prescriptions due to cost will result in 1.1 million premature deaths among Medicare beneficiaries over the next 10 years. That is an unacceptable result of Big Pharma price gouging.
The National Committee hopes that Congress can come together to support the inclusion of price negotiation in their version of the American Families Plan — and that they will respond to the desperate need for hearing, vision and dental services for seniors as part of traditional Medicare coverage. Seniors are an important part of the American family. They deserve our continued attention in this push to improve the nation’s “social infrastructure.”