Drug makers try to scare seniors in a last-ditch effort to halt Democrats’ economic plan

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The West Virginia ad opens with a harrowing scene: An elderly woman waits in a doctor’s office for test results.

The doctor reads from a chart and delivers the bad news: Senator Joe Manchin (TNZT.Va.) is “negotiating a bill that would deprive Medicare nearly $300 billion.” Research into the treatment the woman is receiving ‘may be discontinued’.

“I wish I had better options for you, but I really think it’s time you started talking to your family,” the doctor adds before walking away, leaving the woman stunned.

The ad’s not-so-subtle implication: The Manchin-made economic deal that the Senate will vote on this weekend will kill Grandma.

The 30 second place of the Center for Innovation and Free EntrepreneurshipTargeting the Democrat who drafted the party’s ultimate legislation to meet what’s left of President Joe Biden’s economic agenda, the so-called Inflation Reduction Act is one of many last-minute advertisements from conservative and pharmaceutical industry groups that aim to scare seniors by falsely implying Democrats plan to scrap Medicare.

The line, also picked up by some Republican politicians, distorts the reality of the legislation, which gives Medicare the ability to use its purchasing power as the nation’s largest health insurer to negotiate lower costs from drug companies. That is expected to save Medicare $300 billion over the next decade — savings that will be spent on ongoing health insurance subsidies, deficit reduction and combating climate change.

Democrats hope to pass the legislation in the Senate as early as this weekend, with Biden signing it not long after. It would be a significant achievement, even with the many compromises and concessions included in the final version, in part because the pharmaceutical industry to fight this kind of reforms literally decades.

And they are still fighting now. The pharmaceutical industry has spent more than $545 million in the past two years lobbying efforts to lower the cost of drugs, plus millions more on television and digital advertising through a range of nonprofits.

For the most part, the groups have the familiarif often disputed, arguing that drug pricing reforms would significantly deter innovation, leading to fewer breakthrough drugs.

But lately, they’ve focused more on the claim that Democrats are stealing from Medicare to fund other programs. The target of the argument is seniors, three-quarters of whom in a July AARP survey said protecting Medicare was very important to their voice.

“The reductions that are taking place in Medicare spending have the effect of lowering costs for people on Medicare,” he said. Tricia Neuman, senior vice president at the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation. “It doesn’t really cost Medicare money. It lowers prices so that Medicare and people covered by the program end up spending less.”

sen. Joe Manchin (TNZT.Va.) speaks with reporters outside his Senate office on Tuesday as negotiations on the Inflation Reduction Act continued.

Anna Moneymaker via Getty Images

The Medicare stealing claims also ignore a very important piece of context: Other pieces of legislation are said to bolster the program’s financial protections for seniors. That includes a provision that: would limit out-of-pocket drug spending for $2,000 a year, providing much-needed assistance to seniors with serious medical problems.

“People on Medicare who take very expensive drugs for conditions like cancer and rheumatoid arthritis and MS can spend thousands upon thousands of dollars, even if they are covered by a [Medicare drug] plan, because there is no hard limit on out-of-pocket expenses,” Neuman said. “This allows for a $2,000 cap, which should provide real peace of mind.”

Allegations of Medicare raiding have also surfaced in advertisements from groups funded directly by PhRMA, the drug industry’s trade and lobby group. America Next, a group founded by former Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal (R); the 60-Plus Association, a group that aims to be a conservative counterpart to the AARP; and the conservative group American Commitment all run ads with similar claims. PhRMA has funded all three groups in the past.

Ad buy-in in West Virginia is significant: about $500,000 in two weeks, according to a Democrat who tracks media purchases. And it’s just part of a barrage of advertising aimed at Manchin and Senator Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.), who said late Thursday she would support the Inflation Reduction Act with some minor changes.

“This ad is clearly lying,” said Sam Runyon, a spokesman for Manchin. “West Virginia seniors know that Senator Manchin has worked tirelessly to protect Medicare and lower the cost of prescription drugs. In fact, the Inflation Reduction Act will cut more than 317,000 West Virginians from paying less for their prescription drugs.

There is a long history of political messages designed to scare seniors from threats to Medicare, some real and some imagined.

A 2012 video from a progressive group depicted a famous actor playing then-GOP vice presidential candidate Paul Ryan pushing a grandmother off a cliff as a way to dramatize his proposals to scrap Medicare and turn it into a voucher program. And some Democrats used similar messages — that Medicare cuts were actually cuts — to attack former President Donald Trump.

Allegations of Medicare theft to fund other programs have also been a regular feature of right-wing attacks on the Affordable Care Act, which — again, like the proposal now before Congress — cut Medicare spending by cutting what the program paid. parts of the healthcare industry.

The attacks that Republicans and their allies are launching now are unlikely to stop when the debate over legislation ends. Instead, Republicans have indicated that they intend to repeat attacks on Democrats who will be re-elected in 2022.

“They’re getting $280 billion out of Medicare. They’re going to cut down on life-saving drugs for people. And we know that Medicare is going out of business,” Senator Rick Scott (R-Fla.), the chairman of the National Republican Senatorial Committee, told The New Zealand Times. “This is just a war against seniors.”

Seniors are the most reliable voting bloc in the United States and are especially crucial during midterm elections, when younger voters often drop out of the electorate. During the 2018 midterms, voters aged 50 and over made up 60% of the electorate.

And if there’s one problem that reliably grabs seniors’ attention, it’s healthcare, as they are more susceptible to illness and injury — and more vulnerable to high medical bills.

More than a third of seniors say they are “concerned” or “extremely concerned” about high medical costs, according to a large-scale survey last year by West Health/Gallupand 12% said they or a family member went so far as to skip recommended care because of the price.

The authority would cover a limited, narrow class of drugs and affect only the prices Medicare pays. The process would only start in a few years and even then it would gradually increase.

But future lawmakers could expand the scope of the government’s bargaining power, and that possibility, like any direct impact in the real world, is a major reason why the drug industry and its allies are so desperate to block the provision.

The industry also opposes a related feature of the bill that would penalize drug makers who raise prices faster than inflation. That feature would apply to both commercial insurance and Medicare, though Democrats anxiously wait to see if the Senate MP decides the portion of private insurance complies with special procedural rules about what can and cannot be included. form part of the legislation.

The drug negotiation provisions seem extremely popular, if the polls are indicative. In a particularly telling survey last year, the Kaiser Family Foundation presented a series of arguments for and against negotiating the price of drugs. The support was overwhelming, and there wasn’t even that much partisanship, with over 70% of self-proclaimed Republican respondents saying they were in favor of it.

The other provisions of the legislation are less controversial. In addition to the new $2,000 limit on out-of-pocket expenses, there is a proposed expansion of a program that will provide low-income seniors with additional insurance coverage and a guarantee that vaccines will be free to Medicare beneficiaries. Today, many vaccines require co-payments under Medicare, which, even if modest, can discourage seniors from getting them.

While those provisions have received much less attention than the Senate’s legislative negotiation process, they would provide significant and more immediate assistance. They would also require new government spending, which is one of the reasons they are all part of one package.

The money Medicare would save, through negotiated prices and caps on inflation, would help fund the vaccines, additional help for low-income seniors, and that $2,000 cap on out-of-pocket expenses.

That’s a reason Lovisa Gustafssona vice president at the Commonwealth Fund, told The New Zealand Times it is wrong to view the legislation as a reduction in benefits.

It doesn’t take away your coverage or anything like that,” Gustafsson said. “It’s one of those rare moments when you can save money, spend less, but also improve things for patients. … It’s kind of an overall victory for everyone except the pharmaceutical industry.”

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