As the Biden administration rings in National Alzheimer's Awareness Month, American voters in the midterm elections stand to decide whether prescription drug prices will continue to rise.
November is National Alzheimer’s Disease Awareness Month. In an October 31, 2022 statement from the White House, President Joseph R. Biden, Jr. reminds the world that this is a month to “honor and support the millions of brave Americans who have been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, along with the selfless family members and caregivers who stand by their sides throughout the long course of this heartbreaking disease.”
It is also time for the U.S. midterm elections, tomorrow, November 8. Many Americans have already cast their ballots for tomorrow’s pivotal election. Here’s how these elections will affect families navigating Alzheimer’s and dementia and the associated costs.
The argument over capping the rising price of prescription drugs
This year, Biden signed the Inflation Reduction Act, which, among other things, is designed to help keep costs in check for families confronting diseases like Alzheimer’s. Among other benefits, the legislation gives Medicare the ability to negotiate prices for certain high-price drugs, caps insulin at $35 per month under Medicare Part D, and it limits out-of-pocket prescription costs to $2,000 per month.
Starting this month, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services implemented the cap on out-of-pocket monthly costs for drug prices that go beyond the rate of inflation. An HHS report released last month showed that more than 1,200 products rose prices past inflation last year, underscoring the potential impact of the new inflationary cost cap. In a closely divided senate, these measures lack Republican support.
This cap is at risk of being overturned depending on the outcome of the 2022 midterm elections. Republican senators James Lankford (Okla.), Mike Lee (Utah), Cynthia Lummis (Wyo.) and Marco Rubio (Fla.) have just introduced the “Protecting Drug Innovation Act,” saying they wanted to limit government authority over the prices of drugs covered by Medicare.
“With the prescription drug pricing, that’s something I’m very interested in as a pharmacist,” Rep. Buddy Carter (R-Ga.) said recently in a news interview. “And I’ve been asking my colleagues ‘how are we going to undo that when we get into the majority?’”
As Axios reports, Carter replied “yes” when asked if he backed repeal of the drug pricing legislation. Meanwhile, Rep. Kevin Brady (R-Texas) agreed that repealing the drug pricing law is a likely Republican agenda item because drug caps discourage pharmaceutical companies from innovating.
“Because those drug provisions are so dangerous, by discouraging investment in life-saving cures, I would imagine that will be a top priority for Republicans in the new session,” Brady said.
When Biogen and Eisai first released their groundbreaking but controversial Alzheimer’s drug Aduhelm to market, the shelf price was approximately $58,000 per year for families paying out of pocket. The CMS has since declined to cover the drug and said it would raise Medicare premiums.
In steps to further tackle drug pricing, Biden released a federal order this month that calls on the Department of Health and Human Services to outline how to improve access to innovative drugs and lower costs for these drugs in Medicare and Medicaid.
The partisan tug-of-war over Paid Family Leave
One thing Democrats did not succeed at keeping in the Inflation Reduction Act was federal legislation around Paid Family Leave. According to Paid Family Leave advocates, these measures would allow family Alzheimer’s and dementia caregivers and care partners to remain part of the work force and to continue being paid in cases where they need to take time from their jobs to care for loved ones.
Biden’s initial 10-year, $3.5 trillion proposal for the Inflation Reduction Act included free pre-kindergarten care for families with young children, paid family and medical leave, and expanded Medicare benefits. These plans were scrapped when centrist and Republican opposition said these measures were too costly, leaving advocates dismayed.
“For the first time, a national paid leave program was passed in the U.S. House of Representatives. But then, this year, [with] a Democratic Senate vote or two in the balance—plus opposition across the aisle—the package pivoted,” Paid Leave for All Action Director Dawn Hucklebridge told Marie Claire in an interview last month.
“I’m thrilled that President Biden and congressional Democrats have passed important investments to fight climate change, reign in the costs of prescription drugs, and reform tax rates for wealthy corporations,” Hucklebridge said. “But systems to permanently help working people provide and receive care should not have been the first concession. They should have been a cornerstone.”
This National Alzheimer’s Awareness Month, hope for future research
Regardless of the outcome of the midterms, Biden reminds Americans in the White House statement that curing Alzheimer’s is not a partisan issue.
“The disease does not discriminate between red and blue,” Biden said. “Beating it is something we can do together, in honor of the loved ones we have lost or those who are slipping away, and in support of the remarkable caregivers, doctors, researchers, and advocates who are fighting on their behalf today. Our nation is on the cusp of tremendous scientific progress, and I pledge the best of our energies to support caregivers, improve Alzheimer’s treatments, and work towards a cure that will free future generations from the specter of this disease.”
Here’s how the Biden administration is working toward these goals.
$1 billion+ in funding for medical research and health education
The Alzheimer’s epidemic is growing, Biden noted, and funding research has never been more urgent.
“In the next 30 years, the number of Americans with Alzheimer’s is expected to reach nearly 14 million, straining families and our health care system,” he said. “Fortunately, we are on the cusp of life-saving advances that can forever change the course of the disease.”
The White House points to the Biden administration’s Advanced Research Projects Agency for Health (ARPA-H) at the National Institutes of Health. Launched this year, the ARPA-H will invest $1 billion in research to prevent, treat and cure Alzheimer’s and other deadly diseases.
“Modeled on the Pentagon program that brought us game-changing technologies like the Internet and GPS, ARPA-H will support bold ideas that neither traditional research nor the private sector is willing to pursue, driving new biomedical breakthroughs,” Biden said.
The Department of Health and Human Services is also investing in research and technology to extend the lives and health of people with Alzheimer’s and to provide better training to caregivers who support them. The department is also upping its game in education of Americans about early warning signs of Alzheimer’s, dementia risks and brain health.
In his statement, the president also reaffirmed his commitment to improving diversity in Alzheimer’s trials and racial equity in brain health care.