By Mary Helen Gillespie
The sweeping $750 billion Inflation Reduction Act which includes substantial Medicare reforms long sought by Democrats, passed the U.S. House late Friday afternoon in a 220-206 vote. The passage followed a day-long debate in which GOP representatives warned the bill would reduce health care innovations and new medical cures while raising taxes and increasing inflation.
The 730-page act, which heavily focuses on climate change and environmental investments, doubles the size of the Internal Revenue Service, reduces the deficit, and boosts clean energy initiatives, now awaits President Biden’s signature, which is expected soon.
“This bill is America, apple pie, Mom, and baseball. It’s red, white and blue,” said U.S. Rep. Tim Ryan (D-Ohio.) “We are going to rebuild the middle class.”
For the 64 million retirees on Medicare, the biggest impact will likely be the $35 per prescription cap on insulin and a $2,000 annual limit on out-of-pocket prescription co-pays. Approximately 8 percent of the U.S. population suffers from diabetes, and more than 14 percent of Black Americans have the disease. Diabetics also face an increase probability of heart disease, stroke, and other co-morbidity diseases.
Insulin and drug costs, in some individual cases thousands of dollars annually, have forced millions of elderly patients to decide between their health and groceries, gas and housing across a bloated inflationary economy that some experts say is in a recession.
U.S. Rep. Kim Schrier (D-Washington), a former physician who has diabetes, said her constituents have begged for help with the cost of their insulin and other drugs, some of whom find themselves rationing the doses to the minimum level that will keep them alive.
“This answers the request of the people I represent,” Schrier said.
Republicans scorned the massive bill for months, saying it would raise taxes and inflation as well as crimp innovation in health care advances. But with the critical midterm elections just three months away, the GOP members mostly shied away from directly attacking the insulin and prescription limits in a tip of the hat to their elderly constituents back home.
The bill also allows Medicare for the first time in its history to negotiate drug prices with pharmaceutical companies. U.S. Rep. Buddy Carter (R-Georgia), a pharmacist and co-chair of the House Community Pharmacy Caucus, said this policy would deflect Big Pharma resources from developing new cures and other innovations. He called the bill the “Inflation Expansion Act,” adding “This bill is immoral and must be stopped. This bill eradicates hope. It goes about it all the wrong ways.”
Minority Leader Kevin M. McCarthy (R-California) concurred, telling the Democrat-controlled House that the measure was “misguided and tone deaf.”
“Don’t expect drug prices to come down. It reduces your options and increases costs,” McCarthy said. He and fellow Republicans also blasted the funding of the bill which depends on taxing large, billion-dollar U.S. corporations.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-California) concluded the HR 5376 comments from the House floor with a strong rebuttal to the Republican members who uniformly roasted the largest elements of the package.
“How could you vote with Pharma against senior and working families?” Pelosi asked prior to the beginning of voting on the motion. The Senate approved the act 51-50 on Sunday and the House passed the same measure without changes.
You can read our pre-vote story here.