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Kuster promotes drug price breaks for seniors

New Hampshire Union Leader - 10/5/2022

Oct. 5—CONCORD — Allowing Medicare to negotiate with drug manufacturers should lead to lower costs for seniors and taxpayers, U.S. Rep. Annie Kuster, D-N.H., said during a roundtable on the topic Tuesday.

The Inflation Reduction Act that Congress passed last month will permit Medicare to join the Pentagon and Veterans Administration in negotiating with drug companies for volume discounts on prescriptions.

The bill sets an annual cap of $2,000 in out-of-pocket costs on prescription drugs for those who have Medicare Part D coverage.

It creates a limit of $35 per month for seniors to purchase insulin and no copay for any vaccinations for those on Medicare.

Kuster authored the vaccination benefit as a separate bill after seniors told her the cost of a two-shot vaccine for shingles cost them a few hundred dollars a year.

"We have been talking about this issue for a number of years, but we finally have some wins to share," Kuster said. "This is a real game changer."

"I think to make choices between food and prescriptions or rent and prescriptions is just ridiculous in this day and age," said Ed Friedrich of Loudon, a retired veteran who pays only $8 a month for prescriptions he gets through the VA.

During the event, Kuster made no mention of her Republican opponent, former Hillsborough County Treasurer Bob Burns of Pembroke, who works in the pharmaceutical field.

"Literally, no Republicans supported us in that effort, which is just shocking," Kuster said of the bill.

GOP congressional leaders opposed the Inflation Reduction Act because it raised income taxes for those making more than $400,000 a year and created a minimum corporate tax for large firms that pay little to the IRS.

They also opposed the bill because it would hire 87,000 more staff at the IRS.

Burns said he supports letting Medicare negotiate with drug companies, but said the secret to lowering drug costs is reducing federal regulations.

"I've been in this field for 25 years, and it used to be all about making and selling drugs. Now all I do with my time is fill out FDA (Food and Drug Administration) paperwork, and none of it makes our drugs any safer," Burns said. "The drug companies have given plenty of campaign donations to Kuster over the last decade but not a dime to me because they know I'm the last person they want to see in Congress."

State Rep. Gary Merchant, D-Claremont, worked as a pharmacist for 40 years and was the former president of the state pharmacy board.

"The unintended consequences of people not taking medications are greater health care costs," Merchant said.

Kuster had varied copays for asthma drug

Kuster said she saw firsthand the vagaries of medication prices when she recently refilled a prescription she takes for asthma.

"The monthly copay was $186. I actually need it to breathe so we paid it, but the next time I went to pay, it was $45," Kuster said.

Kuster said lowering health care costs for all citizens is critical to solving the state's most pressing problem, the chronic workforce shortage.

Kuster said the Northern Border Regional Commission has approved a grant to pursue J-1 visas to recruit physicians to come to the North Country, where there is a severe shortage.

"I want to extend this to all other health care workers," Kuster said.

Democratic strategists believe the cost of health care is a winning issue for them, which is why the left-leaning Protect Our Care organization kicked off a 20-state bus tour Tuesday that included a stop outside the State House.


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