Susan Robertson is retired and lives in Lansing, Michigan.
Last year, Biden and congressional Democrats made history by passing the Inflation Reduction Act. The law included several important provisions that lowered the cost of prescription drugs for Medicare recipients. Despite the fact that over 80% of Americans support the government negotiating drug prices, not a single Republican voted for the law.
Rising costs hurt everyone, and seniors living on a fixed income feel the squeeze even more. As a result, we often find ourselves making trade-offs, placed in the impossible position of prioritizing one expense over another. For me, this trade-off came with the shingles vaccine.
As a cancer survivor, I’m no stranger to high health care costs. After I completed my chemotherapy treatment, my immune system was shot, and I had my first shingles flare-up. The painful and all-around miserable experience was not one I wanted to endure ever again.
I began looking into getting Shingrix, the shingles vaccine. But to my dismay, even for someone on Medicare, the full-course vaccine carried a $400 co-pay. This is a cost some seniors cannot afford, especially as nearly one-fourth of Medicare recipients report difficulty affording their prescription drugs.
This was the case for me. Living on a fixed income, there’s rarely enough wiggle room for a $400 copay. Between rent increases and a recent power outage that cost me hundreds in spoiled food, I had no choice but to put off getting the vaccine and gamble that I wouldn’t have a flare-up.
Fortunately, when President Biden promised to lower health care costs, he stuck to his word. Passed in 2022, the Inflation Reduction Act included major cost-cutting reforms to Medicare, including expanding coverage for recommended vaccines. Thanks to the IRA, I was able to get the vaccine this year for $0. Now I am no longer anxiously awaiting the potential pain of a shingles flare-up. And I didn’t have to sacrifice another expense to get the health care I needed.
For the first time, Medicare is empowered to negotiate with pharmaceutical companies over the price of drugs, including one for cancer treatment. As a cancer survivor, I live with the fact that cancer can recur. I feel better knowing these drugs may be more affordable in the future.
Unsurprisingly, pharmaceutical companies and their lobbyists are fighting this in a recent lawsuit aimed at reversing the drug pricing provisions. They claim negotiation is unconstitutional, despite the fact that the Department of Veterans Affairs has had this power for years. They also claim it will hurt drug innovation, despite the fact that taxpayers have subsidized their research and development as companies continue to raise prices.
Year after year, a vast majority of Americans say they want Congress to make progress on dealing with rising health care costs. With the IRA, the Biden administration has taken a critical first step toward reducing drug prices. For me, this law means more than the $400 savings on the shingles vaccine. Once the $2,000 cap on out-of-pocket expenses goes into effect, I will have peace of mind that I can afford my health care, no matter what diagnoses lie ahead.
Having just gotten through a 72-hour power failure, I know exactly what to do with drug savings down the road: acquire a portable power supply to manage the ever-more-frequent outages that occur as we continue to endure extreme weather. If it’s not one thing, it’s another, but this administration has my back!