Six days ago, Seniors Speak Out held a Facebook Live event with special guest Newt Gingrich. We once again had the opportunity to talk with the former Speaker of the House to discuss the various legislative changes that directly impact seniors’ lives, such as their access to treatments and medicines. Our discussion also highlighted the importance of seniors making their voices heard about how Washington’s actions impact their healthcare. You can click here to see the entire half hour event.
I started the event by welcoming everyone reminding everyone that Seniors Speak Out was created by the Healthcare Leadership Council’s Medicare Today as a resource for older Americans, caregivers, and advocates to encourage seniors to advocate for themselves and ensure seniors are educated on healthcare issues and access needs.
I pointed out that the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA) will have a huge impact on seniors’ access to certain medications and treatments given that the new law includes government price controls which has already begun to discourage R&D investments in new treatments. In fact, recently, several major drugmakers announced they are suspending drug development programs out of concerns that IRA implementation will make it impossible to receive a return on investment.
I further discussed how Seniors Speak Out prioritizes senior advocacy and our goal is to provide resources to help seniors understand the healthcare policies that affect their lives and one of the best resources I know is former Speaker Newt Gingrich.
Speaker Gingrich began by reminding us of how much our lives have changed since we put in place a system that encouraged the development of new innovative prescription drugs. He reminded us that these discoveries laid the groundwork for many life improving and life saving medicines and even produced the development of cures. He then wondered why, at this important juncture of new discoveries, our government would decide to enact policies that would restrict innovation. He pointed out that already, 24 drug manufacturers suspended or were going to suspend research on some drug research due to the IRA. He referenced a University of Chicago study that said these cuts to innovation would result in 18 trillion dollars in losses due to the cost of these unimpeded diseases. He conjectured that we should be implementing policies that accelerated innovation.
Speaker Gingrich referenced a book he authored in 2003 titled, “Saving Lives and Saving Money,” and he commented that the order of the title put saving lives in front of saving money because it is a critical moral issue, and he was worried that the current policies deal with the money at the expense of lives.
After these comments I pointed out that, despite the efforts of advocacy groups and seniors across the nation, our government passed the IRA, and it is now even more important for us to speak out to influence the implementation of the law to protect our access and innovation. I then asked Speaker Gingrich if he had any thoughts on how seniors can voice their opinions most effectively?
He quickly stated how important a constituent’s opinion is to lawmakers and he urged everyone to contact their member of Congress and their two Senators to make their feelings heard. He postulated that the reason they only allowed a short 30-day period for comment on the implementation of the drug provisions of the law is because they don’t want to hear from us. He said that these aren’t the people who are dealing with diseases. That’s why those of us who are impacted by these policies need to make our voices heard.
I then took some time to kind of “get into the weeds” on how the price setting portion of the IRA will hurt innovation. One way is that the price exclusivity for new drugs will be only seven years, reducing the time to recover R&D costs which, including drugs that never get approved, can be one to two billion dollars. I then asked Speaker Gingrich if he thought Washington could come up with a way to more soundly encourage innovation?
He responded saying that the first part will be the hearings that are conducted where the drug manufacturers can document exactly what these policies will do and how they will limit access. The second part will be finding ways to accelerate research, with a good first step being to enable tax credits, with a second step being to speed up the approval process. He commented how the drug approval process has gotten bogged down in regulations over the years and that there had to be a way to lower the time and cost of getting a drug approved without jeopardizing safety.
I interjected that if the hearings gave us an opportunity to see exactly where the research would be curtailed due to the IRA that we might then see how it would personally affect us. Speaker Gingrich noted that if the drugs that were discovered and developed decades ago weren’t available now that many people’s lives would have been impacted and much suffering would still be experienced. He stated that the cost in money and suffering would be enormous. He said that investors could invest in many areas and making it riskier to invest in healthcare is not what we should be doing. I then said that we often don’t account for the long-term savings that come from a new drug. Speaker Gingrich followed up with the statement that many of us who are retired can enjoy an active retirement because of these life-altering drugs and it would be a sad situation if we would deprive the next generation of new discoveries because of the policies we enact. He pointed out again that the study that predicted that the new policies in the IRA would cost our society 18 trillion dollars which is far more than what encouraging innovation would cost.
I then asked him how important was the input of his constituents during the time he was Speaker? He replied that many of his ideas came from groups in his home district. He was adamant that we should never underestimate the power we have as a constituent.
I brought the event to a close by encouraging seniors to contact their elected officials’ offices, submitting public comments on federal matters, voting, or volunteering in political events. We can all speak out on these things that affect our lives. You can find an easy way to contact your lawmaker by going to our web site at seniorsspeakout.org.
I hope you will join us again when we have our next Facebook Live event.