Last Thursday, June 15th, we held a Facebook live event with our guest Mark Gibbons, President and CEO of RetireSafe. RetireSafe has been promoting and protecting the wellbeing, independence, and rights of seniors through advocacy and education for over 30 years. On this Facebook live event we discussed healthcare legislative priorities and shared the results of a recent healthcare survey. You can click here to see the not quite half hour discussion.
I welcomed Mark to our Facebook live event and started with a few opening remarks. I once again talked about the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA) and its impact on future drug innovation in drugs for cancer, diabetes, Alzheimer’s and other diseases. I pointed out that this law is already impacting innovation. Manufacturers have already reduced their investment in some new drugs, especially in the area of rare diseases. The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) has recently announced their plan to consider the patient’s perspective in their initial discussions. Their timing makes this announcement seem like an afterthought and, from past experience, we don’t expect the patient’s input will have much impact.
I mentioned the recent introduction of the SMART Prices Act, a partisan bill introduced by 20 or so Democrats in the Senate that would increase the number of drugs considered for price controls, thus doubling down on the price control scheme we’ve warned will only destroy the medical innovation ecosystem.
I then spent a moment focusing on Medicare Advantage. Washington has threatened to enact cuts to this program that has been embraced by close to 50% of Medicare enrollees. I pointed out that cutting a program that enrolls twice as many minorities as traditional Medicare will adversely impact the most vulnerable people in Medicare. Improving the health outcomes of this diverse patient population should be a priority for our lawmakers. Cuts to Medicare Advantage next year would completely offset any progress they make with these efforts.
I then turned the time over to our guest Mark Gibbons. Mark started out by sharing that advocating for seniors is a passion that he enjoys. He advocates for a flexible healthcare system that offers the best treatments available at the time you need them. Millions of Medicare beneficiaries are fortunate enough to have this access, choice, and flexibility with their treatment plans. Mark went on to point out that policymakers think the only way to address drug cost affordability is by restricting what treatments are available, and he hoped that Congress would reverse course on price controls and abandon any future attempts to expand them.
Mark then expanded the discussion concerning the proposed Medicare Advantage cuts. As all of us have heard repeatedly, the President and Congress say there will be no cuts to Medicare. Medicare Advantage is Medicare. Yet there is still talk of cuts. Having options is important to older Americans, and this option needs to remain viable. Mark then turned the time back to me.
I took a minute to remind everyone that seniors don’t want people coming between them and their doctor. They don’t want the government reducing their choices. I then asked Mark about the work RetireSafe has been doing concerning the SMART Prices legislation we discussed earlier.
Mark responded by saying that for the last 6 weeks, he has been working on the House side, making 57 visits, especially with the Energy and Commerce and Ways and Means Committees. His message to the House side was that before we double down on the number of drugs eligible for price controls in the IRA, we should see what the impact is of the original number. He pointed out that the magic cost savings predicted by the IRA have not been proven. He doesn’t believe in magic; he wants to see the hard proof before we expand the price controls.
I wholeheartedly agreed. I referenced some blogs that predicted that Congress would want to expand the numbers. Sure enough, before there has been the first discussion on which drugs would be subjected to price controls, they already have legislation to expand the number eligible. I thanked Mark and RetireSafe for taking the lead and putting forth the effort to tell those in the House that seniors don’t want to further constrict the discovery of new treatments and cures by expanding the number of drugs that would be subject to price controls. I pointed out that if a drug isn’t developed, we’re never going to have the option to use it.
We then moved to the recent healthcare check in survey that we conducted. In the survey we found that over 58 percent of seniors said that their biggest concerns were a lack of affordability, while fewer cures and treatments and limited access to a wide variety of drugs for an illness followed close behind. They also felt that lowering out-of-pocket costs for prescription drugs and increasing access to innovative drugs were their top healthcare concerns for Congress to prioritize. Nearly a quarter of respondents also emphasized that protecting access through Medicare Advantage plans was a priority for them. It was no surprise that seniors’ biggest concern when it comes to price control policies is that price controls would reduce choices for patients. Our survey also found that the best way seniors found to communicate with lawmakers was through emails. I asked Mark about his thoughts on how seniors could communicate with Washington.
Mark noted that emails, especially during COVID, was the most effective method but pointed out that now, attending town hall meetings or making in person appointments are once again available and very effective. He pointed out that seniors have two great advantages, time and opinions. Mark urged seniors to use these advantages. He also mentioned that in the next few weeks he was going to the Senate side to talk with those that introduced the SMART Prices legislation to ask them what they know that we don’t know. They certainly don’t have facts that support their plan to expand the number of drugs eligible for price controls.
I agreed and pointed out that seniors are going back to the doctors and hospitals after putting off needed treatments and preventative measures. We are counting on options to keep us healthy. I mentioned that I testified earlier that day at an FDA advisory board meeting on COVID vaccines. I reminded the panel that seniors were the age cohort that was most affected by the pandemic, and we were also the group that had the highest number of vaccinations. We are counting on the FDA and CMS to make treatments accessible, not to constrict innovation. Mark interjected that he was pleased that during his visits on the House side he sensed a willingness on both sides of the aisle to keep all options of Medicare solvent and viable.
I ended with a plea for seniors to get involved. I once again reminded everyone that the constituent is the most powerful voice in Washington and that they can go to our website, www.seniorsspeakout.org, to learn about the policies that will affect our healthcare and take advantage of the option that will let them quickly contact their lawmakers.
I appreciated Mark taking the time to participate in this live event. I hope you take the time to tune in for our next event and to continue to speak out.