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Who remembers as a kid learning how a bill becomes a law? While I can’t remember the exact grade, I remember my teacher showing the video from School House Rock:  “I’m Just a Bill.” When I was a kid, this short video was a staple of social studies classrooms. It’s a three-minute animated cartoon explaining how a bill becomes a law. The cartoon details this process with a catchy song and a child conversing with a talking legislation.

You might be asking yourself why I am bringing this up. Fair question. I recently, thought about this video while reading news articles about the Inflation Reduction Act’s (IRA) impact on the price of prescriptions drugs for Medicare enrollees. In the beginning of 2021, Congress and the White House started working on legislation that would impact a wide variety of policy areas. The bill was debated in Congress, in what felt like forever, before it became a law in August 2022.  However, the bill wasn’t just debated. It was cut in size and scope to win approval from the Senate. Sadly, the legislative process takes longer than a three-minute video.

While it felt like an eternity for this bill to become law, evidence suggests for seniors it was worth the wait. The legislation tackles the price of prescription drugs through Medicare with reforms being phased in over several years. Some of the reforms have already been instituted and seniors are starting to see the benefits. Last year the price of Medicare-covered insulin was capped at $35 a month. Obviously, this is great news, considering the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services reported that in 2020, 3.3 million Medicare Part D enrollees used insulin.

In May, The New York Times reported on Kaye Peterson, a 66-year-old retired librarian who uses insulin to control her diabetes. Because of the IRA, she no longer spends $300 a month on insulin, allowing her to use the money she saves to contribute to her costs for assisted living. According to the administration, in 2023, on average, 1.5 million seniors on Medicare saved $500 on insulin annually. Clearly, Kaye’s savings are higher than the average Medicare recipient. However, saving $40 a month, for countless seniors can make a big difference with other expenses.

However, it’s not just the financial saving that is noteworthy; it’s also the health benefits.  According to a study published in July by researchers from the University of Wisconsin and the University of Southern California, “The Inflation Reduction Act’s cap on cost sharing was associated with increases in the total number of insulin fills and insulin fills with cost sharing of $35 or less for Medicare enrollees aged 65 to 74 years compared with patients aged 60 to 64 years without Part D insurance.” While the data is limited to only a few months, the signs are encouraging. Seniors on Medicare Part D who are better able to afford insulin will be more likely to renew their prescription, compared to older adults who are not Medicare eligible. This is an important development because older adults who ration their insulin increase the likelihood of serious health issues.

Additional IRA reforms last year made Medicare-covered vaccines free. In 2023, according to the administration, about 10 million Medicare recipients received free vaccines, saving on average $70 a person. For seniors on limited incomes, this is significant.  “High out-of-pocket costs prevented far too many older Americans from getting recommended vaccines,” says Leigh Purvis, prescription drug policy principal in AARP’s Public Policy Institute, in an AARP publication. “The new prescription drug law removes this obstacle and will help protect the health of millions of Medicare beneficiaries.”

The reforms did not stop in 2023.  This year, Medicare recipients benefit from a $3,300 cap on out-of-pocket expenses for prescription drugs, and next year the cap is lowered even more: down to $2,000.

For seniors like David Mitchell this translates into significant savings. In February, The New York Times reported on Mitchell who at 60 in 2010 was diagnosed with multiple myeloma, a non-curable cancer that doctors are treating with pricey medication. After retiring at 66, Mitchell went on Medicare and the price of his prescription drugs for cancer and atrial fibrillation increased. In 2023, Mitchell paid $16,916 for his medications, most of which was associated with one of his cancer drugs. However, this year with the cap, his out-of-pocket costs fell to $3,308. Not exactly chump change.

To further illustrate the urgency of this law, the Kaiser Family Foundation reports that cancer drugs like Lynparza, Ibrance and Xtandi, last year had out of pocket costs around $12,000. Now with the IRA those out-of-pocket costs drop to $3,300 this year and will drop even further in 2025, to $2,000.

The IRA made prescription drugs for seniors more affordable, resulting in some seniors saving thousands of dollars. Additional reforms, including the federal government negotiating with the pharmaceutical industry should save additional dollars.

Unfortunately, pending litigation has made this law’s future unclear. We anxiously await the outcome of this litigation. But in the meantime, I hope seniors continue to benefit from more affordable prescription drugs for years to come. Seniors are already starting to see the results, and more affordable health care is an important and critical goal.

Evan Carmen, Esq. is the Legislative Director for Aging Policy at the B’nai B’rith International Center for Senior ServicesClick here to read more from Evan Carmen.