Update for Week Ending December 18, 2021

Update for Week Ending December 18, 2021

This past weekend West Virginia Democratic Senator Joe Manchin announced he will not vote to pass the legislation that would lower prescription drug prices. The drug price reduction provision is part of the “Build Back Better” legislation under consideration in the Senate.

There is much speculation in Washington about what happens now - whether the entire bill is dead, or modified to satisfy Manchin, or whether key pieces of the bill will be brought up individually for votes.

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) has said the Build Back Better bill will be brought up for a vote early next year, but unless things somehow change it would be defeated.

Manchin’s vote is critical because the Senate is divided equally between Democrats and Republicans and every Republican in the Senate will vote “no” on the bill whenever it is voted on. If every Democrat would vote for it, Vice President Kamilla Harris would break the tie in favor of the bill because the Constitution says the Vice President is also President of the Senate.

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Medicare Coverage of Hearing Also on the Line

In addition to lowered prescription drug prices, the Build Back Better legislation also contains a provision that would expand Medicare coverage for hearing aids and services. Originally, it also had provisions to provide dental and vision coverage but those were removed in an attempt to lower the overall cost of the bill and gain the support of both Manchin and Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.).

Nonetheless, Manchin continued to object to adding even the hearing benefit to Medicare because of concerns about the programs cash flow.

TSCL supports both the provision to lower prescription drug prices and the

hearing provision. We will be urging Congress to pass both, whether in a revised Build Back Better bill or as part of other legislation next year.

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Price of Alzheimer’s Drug is Lowered – Will Medicare Part B Premium Follow?

A significant part of the large increase in the Medicare Part B premium for next year is because of the cost of the new Alzheimer’s drug Aduhelm, which was priced at $56,000 a year.

The premium increase came even though the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) has not yet determined whether and how it will cover Aduhelm. But in order to pay for the drug treatment in case it does decide to cover it, CMS wanted to build up a reserve of funds.

However, Biogen, the company that makes Aduhelm, has just announced it will cut the price of Aduhelm in half in an effort to increase sales which have been poor, in part because of its enormous cost.

It turns out that sales of the drug brought in only $300,000 for Biogen between July and September after forecasts had predicted revenue to reach $12 million.

Since the cost has been halved, we wonder if CMS will now reduce the cost of the Medicare Part B premium hike.

The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services is reviewing the evidence for a potential national policy for the drug.

The drug has been controversial both for its price and because the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved it despite doubts from experts about its effectiveness.

The FDA granted accelerated approval for the drug on June 7. Aduhelm, was the first new Alzheimer's drug approved in nearly 20 years, but the approval came over the near-unanimous objections of the FDA's expert advisory committee. As a result of the FDA’s decision, three members of the advisory panel subsequently resigned.

Additionally, the approval came after two large-scale trials to gauge the drug’s efficacy were halted early because they were deemed unlikely to work.

The FDA had initially approved the drug for all Alzheimer's patients, but in July narrowed its intended use to only patients with mild cognitive impairment or mild dementia.

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Happy Holidays!

We will be taking a break from our weekly update for the coming holidays, and we’ll return Jan. 10, 2022, after Congress comes back to Washington to begin its next session.

In the meantime, we wish for you the happiest of Holidays!

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As we continue dealing with the Covid 19 pandemic, TSCL remains constant in our fight for you to protect your Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid benefits. We’ve had to make some adjustments in the way we carry on our work, but we have not, and will not stop our work on your behalf.

For progress updates or for more information about these and other bills that would strengthen Social Security and Medicare programs, visit the our website at www.SeniorsLeague.orgfollow TSCL on Twitter or Facebook.