Winning the Battle vs. High Healthcare Costs for Seniors

 

by Chris Wangler

September 12, 2022

Top DC Democrats strolled confidently into the Waltham senior center recently to celebrate healthcare wins that benefit seniors.

The Inflation Reduction Act, signed into law by President Biden, will lower insulin costs, cap Medicare costs and prevent drug makers from hiking prices amid high inflation.

“This is putting seniors over special interests, seniors over politics,” said Congresswoman Katherine Clark (MA-5), the Waltham event organizer and the assistant speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives. 

Rep. Clark invited U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services (HHS) Xavier Becerra, U.S. Senator Elizbeth Warren and other stakeholders for a roundtable session on September 2, including the head of a Waltham community health center.

 

The White House and Becerra also recently announced that hearing aids will be available over the counter at pharmacies and stores across the country. 

The mood was celebratory, but guarded.

The Democratic leaders characterized cost relief measures as hard-won victories over powerful healthcare monopolies intent on keeping healthcare and drug costs sky-high. 

 

Sec. Becerra said seniors across the country are forced into difficult decisions because of high healthcare costs.

Under the new legislation, those enrolled in the Affordable Care Act would save an average of $800 per year.

He added that there will be caps for Medicare patients starting next year: $35 per month on insulin and $2,000 per year on out-of-pocket costs.

The former congressman and California attorney general praised Clark and Warren for their hard work on getting the Inflation Reduction Act passed. 

“Thank you for sending to Congress people who know how to get work done,” he said.

U.S. Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) nimbly worked the room before and after the roundtable. 

She was energized about the passage of new cost-saving legislation and wider access to much-needed hearing aids for seniors.

“Twenty million Americans have hearing loss that could be helped by hearing aids, but fewer than one in five gets a hearing aid, principally because of cost,” she said.


A prominent opponent of corporate greed, she appeared even more energized by defeating large corporations intent on keeping healthcare costs among the highest in the world.

“The industry has always pushed back. The industry has always won,” said Sen. Warren. “This time the industry lost and seniors won.”

“This is the number one issue that we’ve heard about from our members for many many years,” said Mike Festa, the state director of AARP Massachusetts with 750,000 members.

He said Big Pharma fought the new legislation and that AARP has been battling with elected officials for years to lower costs.

“This is not over,” Festa said. “We are in this for the long haul.”

One additional benefit of the new legislation is expanded prescription drug coverage for low-income individuals. 

Charles River Community Health on Willow Street in Waltham offers healthcare, dental and prescription drugs to thousands of low-income Waltham residents.

CEO Liz Browne said some of the center’s patients struggle to pay for non-generic prescriptions from the center’s pharmacy.

Michael Curry, President and CEO of the MA League of Community Health Centers, speaks on behalf of 52 healthcare centers with over a million patients.

He pointed out an irony in Massachusetts’ booming healthcare sector, which is constantly coming up with new medications, technology and care options.

“What is it all for if people can’t access it?” he asked. “We’re 100% with you. We want to fight with you.”

Rising fast through the House Democratic ranks, Assistant Speaker Katherine Clark (MA-5) is making moves without making waves. 

The event at the senior center reflected her collaborative style and commitment to Waltham.

In recent years, she has rolled into Waltham half a dozen times with COVID relief funds for restaurants, federal infrastructure money and healthcare relief for seniors and low-income residents.

Along the way, she and Waltham mayor Jeannette McCarthy have established a rapport.

McCarthy thanked her and the other elected officials for making hearing aids more accessible and making insulin more affordable for Waltham seniors.

“Many, many of them are on fixed incomes,” she said.

Connie Andrews is a former City of Waltham worker and longtime resident. A recent hospital visit would have cost $38,000 if she wasn’t insured. 

“I am in full favor of what’s being passed and I know it’s only being passed through difficulty,” she said.