Week Ending October 8, 2022

Week Ending October 8, 2022

New Senate Bill Threatens Lower Drug Prices

With Election Day just a month away it is a good time to restate that TSCL is a non-partisan organization. We do not pick sides between Democrats and Republicans, nor do we endorse candidates.

However, what we do is endorse or oppose legislation no matter which elected official, or party supports it. If we believe the legislation is good for seniors, we support it. If it’s bad for seniors, we oppose it.

TSCL supporters are no doubt aware that we supported the legislation passed by Congress a number of weeks ago that, for the first time, will lower prescription drug prices. Unfortunately, the bill was highly partisan – it received no Republican votes in either house of Congress - and while we would prefer to support legislation that has the support of both parties, which was not an option.

Now, we must report that last Friday, Senate Republicans introduced a bill that would roll back the drug pricing reforms, including the measures allowing Medicare to negotiate drug prices for the first time in the program’s history. It also repeals the cap that was placed a $2,000 out-of-pocket cap on annual drug costs for seniors on Medicare, as well as a $35 monthly copay for insulin.

Republican Sens. James Lankford (Okla.), Mike Lee (Utah), Cynthia Lummis (Wyo.), and Marco Rubio (Fla.) introduced the “Protecting Drug Innovation Act,” saying they wanted to pull back government authority over the prices of drugs covered by Medicare.

“Prescription drug prices are too high for many critical drugs, which demonstrates the need for more competition and more options for consumers,” Lankford, who sits on the Senate Finance Committee, said in a statement.

If passed, Lankford’s bill states it would make it so that the drug pricing reduction measures “had never been enacted.”

“Unfortunately, the Democrats’ new government drug price control in their so-called ‘Inflation Reduction Act’ creates even more barriers to effectively bringing down the cost of prescriptions, particularly for senior adults on Medicare,” added Lankford.

In his own statement, Senator Lee argued that price controls, “… exacerbate the problems they seek to resolve. Mandating fixed prescription drug prices will ultimately result in the shortening of American lives,” the Utah senator said.

White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre lambasted the bill on Twitter, saying it puts “special interests before working families.”

“Their new bill is a giveaway to Big Pharma at the expense of seniors by ending Medicare’s new ability to negotiate lower drug prices,” Jean-Pierre said. “Their vision for the country is extreme and out of touch with working families across the country.”

TSCL has fought for legislation to reduce prescription drug prices for years and although the new law is far from perfect, it the first time Congress has ever passed a law to reduce drug prices.

The big drug companies fought the new bill by spending millions of dollars to oppose it, including giving money to the campaigns of many members of Congress to try and influence their votes.

Although several Republican Senators have expressed concern about the high costs of prescription drugs, when they held the majority, they were unable to come up with a bill to fix the problem that all Republicans members would support. In fact, then-Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell refused to allow any drug price-reducing legislation come up for a vote.

We urge TSCL supporters to contact their Senators and ask them what their position is on this new bill and then urge them to oppose it.

We also urge you to keep this in mind when you vote next month.

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Government’s Quality Ratings for Medicare Advantage Plans and Medicare Part D Prescription Drug Plans Have Fallen

Last week the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, or CMS, released its star ratings for Medicare Advantage and Medicare Part D Prescription Drug Plans.

Each year CMS calculates Medicare star ratings based on performance and member satisfaction data for Medicare Advantage plans and Medicare Part D prescription drug plans.

Plans are rated on a number of quality measures from 1 to 5 stars, where 1 is the worst and 5 is the best. These measures include customer service, member complaints about the plan, and how well the plan manages chronic conditions. CMS also calculates a rating for each plan.

Medicare star ratings reached record highs in 2022, but they’re coming back down for 2023. It’s not the first time the government’s quality ratings for Medicare plans have fallen, but this year’s decline involves more than the usual yearly adjustments.

With the annual Medicare open enrollment season beginning later this week you can read the entire article before you make your decision about your Medicare enrollment for next year:  https://www.marketwatch.com/story/why-did-medicare-star-ratings-go-down-for-2023-heres-what-it-means-for-beneficiaries-11665170016?mod=retirement

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Government Study Shows Corona Virus Vaccinations Saved Hundreds of Thousands of Lives Last Year

A new study from the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), not yet published in a peer-reviewed journal, estimated that coronavirus vaccines were linked to roughly 670,000 to 680,000 fewer hospitalizations as well as 330,000 to 370,000 fewer related deaths from September 2020 to December 2021.

According to HHS, these estimates represented between 39 and 47 percent fewer deaths than in a possible scenario in which vaccines were not available. The research did not include potential cases that were averted, with HHS citing the rise in at-home testing that isn’t reported to officials.

On top of these potentially averted deaths and hospitalizations, the HHS study estimated more than $16 billion in direct hospitalization costs were saved due to immunization.

In a press briefing last Friday, Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra said this research “doubles down on the work that we’re doing on vaccination.”

“We’ve been trying to make sure that we stay ahead of this virus and keep America not only healthy but strong and keep our economy healthy and strong,” said Becerra.

White House COVID-19 Response Coordinator Ashish Jha said almost every death due to COVID-19 in the U.S. is now preventable, adding that the administration was “laser-focused” on reducing illnesses and deaths in the country, though he declined to give an exact numerical goal when asked.

Part of achieving the administration’s goal begins with “making sure that every American gets an updated COVID vaccine,” according to Jha.

TSCL urges our supporters to get their COVID-19 booster as soon as possible, along with their seasonal flu vaccine. Although the CDC has said you can get both shots at the same time, some doctors have advised that it might be wise to separate them by a couple of weeks so that if you have short-term reactions, it won’t be to both at once.

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