Senate passes bill to limit Medicare drug costs, keep Obamacare discounts; Ky. senators vote no, citing tax increases, inflation

Kentucky Health News

Senate Democrats passed a bill Sunday titled the Inflation Reduction Act, which would allow Medicare to negotiate with drug manufacturers to lower prices, as well as limiting out-of-pocket drug costs for Medicare beneficiaries and continuing pandemic-lowered rates for federally subsidized health insurance.

Mitch McConnell and Rand Paul of Kentucky joined all other Republican senators in voting against the bill, which would also pay for several measures to combat climate change. It passed the Senate on Vice President Kamala Harris’s tie-breaking vote and is expected to pass the House this week.

The bill targets climate change mainly through tax credits for electric vehicles, and would be paid for with “substantial tax increases, mostly on large corporations, including establishing a 15 percent corporate minimum tax and imposing a new tax on company stock buybacks,” The New York Times reports. It also aims to boost tax revenue by boosting the payroll of the Internal Revenue Service.

Republicans said the economy is in recession, so it is no time to raise taxes, and cited official estimates that the bill would have little economic impact. McConnell said in a press release that Democrats’ “response to the runaway inflation they’ve created is a bill that experts say will not meaningfully cut inflation at all. The American people are clear about their priorities. Environmental regulation is a 3% issue. Americans want solutions for inflation, crime, and the border.”

Florida Sen. Rick Scott said on CBS‘s “Face the Nation” that because drug companies will have less money for research, “there will be lifesaving drugs that seniors will not get.” Told that the Congressional Budget Office estimates that only 1% of drugs would be so affected, Scott said a viewer’s grandmother might be in the 1%.

Those provisions would not take effect until 2026 and would apply to only 10 drugs, but would include more drugs in later years.

The bill would put a $2,000 annual cap on seniors’ out-of-pocket costs for prescription drugs, and would guarantee that they could get vaccines without charge. Medicare patients would pay no more than $35 a month for insulin; the bill would have set the same limit for private insurance plans, but Republicans forced removal of that, based on the parliamentary rules governing the bill.

People on federally subsidized health insurance, known as Obamacare, would get three more years of the discounts that Democrats pushed into law last year and that would otherwise expire this fall, just before the annual enrollment period for Obamacare policies, held by about 90,000 Kentuckians.

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