Bill passed in Congress could lower prescription drug prices for some Virginians

RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC)- Some Virginians could see lower prescription drug costs under a bill that just cleared its final hurdle in Congress.

Lowering the cost of medications for seniors is one component of the Inflation Reduction Act, which passed in the Senate on Sunday. The House sent the bill to President Joe Biden’s desk after a final vote late Friday.

Jay Luster said his wife, Linda, suffers from rheumatoid arthritis. Despite the advice of her doctors, he said she has been putting off retiring and switching to Medicare because her prescription would cost up to $5,087 per month under the current system.

“We would quickly be bankrupt,” Luster said.

But under the Inflation Reduction Act, Luster said Linda’s out-of-pocket drug costs would be capped at $2,000 annually when that portion of the bill is implemented in 2025. According to a press release from Senators Tim Kaine and Mark Warner, more than 36,000 Virginians with Medicare Part D spent more than that in 2020.

“It will allow my wife, who should’ve retired years ago, to be able to retire because we’ll be able to afford to pay for the medications that she needs simply to live and we’re not alone,” Luster said. “I’ve been advocating for years, decades now and we’re finally getting what we asked for.”

The bill will also allow Medicare to negotiate certain drug prices for the first time beginning in 2026.

At an event in Richmond on Friday, Senator Kaine said he wanted to do more.

“I would have gone farther, faster on the negotiated pricing. It’s a limited number of drugs that we will negotiate. They will be the big ticket items in Medicare,” Kaine said.

Another pillar of the bill will penalize drug makers who choose to raise their prices faster than inflation. Kaine’s office said that will take effect in 2023.

Starting in 2024, the bill also increases eligibility for a low-income subsidy program covering the cost of Medicare Part D prescription drugs. Over 400,000 people with Medicare benefit from this program currently, including over 11,000 Virginians, according to Kaine’s office.

Additionally, the legislation caps how much Medicare patients spend on insulin at $35 per month.

“We tried to extend that to private insurance but we could not get enough Republican votes. I don’t know why they voted against the $35 cap. We’re going to try to bring that back up,” Kaine said. “That would have really saved a lot of people a lot of money.”

All of Virginia’s Republican congressmen voted against the broader bill in the House on Friday.

Rep. Bob Good said price controls will lead to higher costs in other areas and stunt the development of new drugs.

“If you diminish the ability for them to be profitable, then you’ll diminish the development of those drugs. You will have people die because of price fixing of drugs,” Good said in a Zoom interview on Friday.

In a statement, Rep. Rob Wittman said Congress should focus on bipartisan reforms included in the Lower Costs, More Cures Act, which he cosponsored.

“Imposing price controls on prescription drugs from Washington only serves to reduce lifesaving innovations and sidetrack the new cures that come from a free market,” Wittman said.

In a separate statement, Rep. Morgan Griffith called prescription drug prices “a serious problem” but he said the bill’s price controls are “counterproductive and unconstitutional.”

“If a drug company does not agree to a ‘negotiated price,’ the Federal Government could then impose a punitive tax on it of up to 95% of gross receipts. This would violate the Constitution’s takings clause prohibiting the taking of private property for public use without just compensation,” Griffith said.

Rep. Ben Cline’s office didn’t immediately respond to an interview request or offer a statement on Friday.

The passage of the Inflation Reduction Act is considered a key victory for the Biden Administration that could lend a hand to Democrats defending seats in tight Congressional races, including Rep. Abigail Spanberger.

“Today’s vote is about siding with the Virginia seniors who are struggling to afford their medications — rather than siding with multinational pharmaceutical companies. Today’s vote is about recognizing the hardships faced by Virginia’s working families as healthcare costs rise — rather than refusing to take any steps to combat high costs,” Spanberger said in a statement after Friday’s vote.

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