REMARKS BY VICE PRESIDENT HARRIS ON THE IMPACT OF THE INFLATION REDUCTION ACT ON SENIORS AND FAMILIES
Durham Center for Senior Life
Durham, North Carolina
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Good afternoon, everyone. Good afternoon. Please have a seat. Please have a seat. Please have a seat. Good afternoon. And it is good to be back in North Carolina and in Durham.
Governor, I thank you. I was saying to Roy Cooper, who I’ve known for years — he and I were attorneys general together when I was Attorney General of California and he, of course, in North Carolina. And he’s been so important as a partner to the President and me with everything that we’ve been doing from the initial work that we did around what we needed to do to bring relief for small businesses, to the work that we’ve done with the infrastructure law, and now, of course, this. So, Governor, thank you always for your leadership. It was so good to be back with you.
And, Gina, thank you for your work.
This afternoon, we had a tour of the facility and got to meet with some extraordinary leaders, including our seniors who have been providing such an important voice on these issues and having the ability with such courage to tell your personal stories — and I’m looking at a few of them right now — to tell your personal stories in a way that really gives voice to so many folks who are not in this room right now, but need to be heard. So I thank you for that.
And, Mayor O’Neal, where are you? I want to thank you for all of your leadership. It’s good to be back with you again, as well. (Applause.) Yes. Yes.
And we are joined by so many leaders. I see some old friends and — I mean “longstanding.” We don’t say that. (Laughter.) And many new ones.
And I want to thank you, including our administrator for the Administrator of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, Chiquita Brooks-LaSure. Where are you? There she is. I will tell you, she has broke so many barriers in terms of her leadership and being the first in so many ways. But on this and so many issues, she is always fighting for the people of our country and, in particular, those who deserve to have the dignity that comes with having a nation think about their care, and doing it in a way that is thoughtful and comprehensive. So thank you, Madam Administrator, for that. (Applause.)
Congressman David Price, I see you there. Thank you. You have been representing this district for over 30 years, and, again, a real champion for North Carolina. And I’ve seen him in the halls of Congress doing the work of making sure that we are always thoughtful about this community.
So I have worked with many folks over the years. And I will tell you that the folks who are leaders — who I have just mentioned — in this room, know this state so well and the dreams of the people of this state. And — and so, that’s why I’m here, because the President and I wanted to make sure that we were highlighting the work of the leaders here in Durham and in North Carolina on this very important issue that impacts people around our nation.
So, that being said, let’s understand: Today in America, there are more than 50 million people over the age of 65. And North Carolina has one of the largest and fastest-growing populations of seniors in the country, with currently — and it’s growing — just under 2 million seniors.
And who are we talking about? We’re talking about folks that have spent their entire lives working hard, building families, and contributing to their community, and creating a path for so many of us to follow.
However, far too often, our nation does not provide our seniors with the support and the resources they need. In fact, I am sad to share with you that in our nation, right now, at least 9 percent of our seniors live in poverty. Among women 80 years old and over, that number jumps to 14 percent.
Today, 1 in 10 seniors reports experiencing elder abuse. And that’s an issue I’ve been working on since back in my days when I was District Attorney. And on the issue of elder abuse, far too often, they suffer silently for fear that to tell anyone might mean that they will be deprived of their ability to live independently and be taken seriously and treated with respect.
And today, millions of seniors still struggle to afford the healthcare they need and they deserve.
But our administration is determined to lower healthcare costs for our seniors. And a key part of that work is lowering the cost of insulin.
So, why is that a big deal? Well, because, today, one in three seniors in our nation has diabetes. And for seniors on Medicare, a month of insulin can cost more than $100 — extremely expensive. I’ve talked with our seniors in different parts of the country who talk about how they ration their insulin because they cannot afford to refill their prescription. I met with one of the community pharmacists just a — about a few minutes ago, talking about what he has seen when seniors come into the pharmacy and say, “I’m not — I can’t refill my prescription yet because I’m not ready to be able to pay that until the beginning of next month.” Right?
So, folks who need a prescription filled because a doctor, a medical health professional, said, “That’s exactly what you need to alleviate your pain or improve the quality of your life” — unable to fill the prescription that would do just that.
Folks who talk about what their insulin — they then, to stretch it out, will do one day on and one day off, which means — and the medical professionals here can tell you — to do that means that they endure dizziness and nausea and blurry vision, because they simply don’t have any other choice but to try and stretch it out.
And understand the importance of this, in terms of the numbers of folks we’re talking about and the seriousness of this issue. A diabetic who goes for too long without insulin could fall into a coma or even die. And no one should have to worry and wonder about whether they will be able to afford the insulin that keeps them alive.
And that is why, starting next year, our administration will cap the cost of insulin prescriptions for people on Medicare to $35 a month. (Applause.) And frankly, it’s long overdue.
And the benefit will be to cover at least 1.4 million people in our country, as part of our administration’s larger campaign to lower the cost of prescription medication across the board.
For years — and I’ve seen this over the years of being an Attorney General. Roy knows this. When we defend consumers’ rights; to being in the Senate and watching it from Washington — Washington, D.C. and those lobbyists; to being Vice President. For years, the largest drug companies have made billions of dollars in profits, selling drugs for 10 to 100 times what they cost to make.
For years, Big Pharma — that’s what we call that group, “Big Pharma” — has fought to grow their profits by preventing Medicare from negotiating lower drug prices. And for years, they won. Because, you see, Medicare was required by law — by law to pay whatever price the drug companies set. But not anymore. Not anymore. (Applause.)
So last month, our administration gave Medicare the power to negotiate with Big Pharma on behalf of our seniors. And understand what that means: It means, yes, we’re changing the game. But it also means this, in terms of breaking down the issue: It means that our seniors should not be out there having to fight for themselves against these powerful interests at a stage of life where they have earned the right to be treated with dignity by their community and their society and their nation. They should not have to be out there advocating for themselves, especially when they are at a moment of need in terms of being in pain or being sick and just simply needing to be able to have access and to be able to afford the thing that will give them a better quality of life.
So, this single change, allowing Medicare to negotiate, will lower the price of prescription drugs for millions of Americans.
Another healthcare issue for millions of our fellow Americans, including our seniors, is the issue of hearing aids. Everybody here knows what I’m talking about. Right? (Laughter.) It’s a big issue. It’s a big issue for those who know and want to talk with folks who need a hearing aid and for those who need a hearing aid. (Laughter.) It’s a big issue for all of us.
Millions of people in our nation depend on hearing aids to help them live a full and independent life — to speak, for example, with the teller at the bank or the person who is the server at the restaurant; to hear the sermon in church; or to listen to a grandchild talk about their first day of school. But hearing aids are expensive. Sometimes, they cost more than $5,000 a pair.
And for people who are 70 years and older who need hearing aids, the numbers I’ve looked at tell us that only one in three of those in that category has ever actually used a hearing aid because of all these barriers to getting them.
So, this is why President Biden and I recently took a long-overdue step to make hearing aids available over the counter. Right? So — (applause) — no prescription. Go to the community pharmacist. Right?
So this will reduce the average cost of a pair of hearing aids by thousands of dollars. Soon, Americans with mild to moderate hearing loss will be able to buy their hearing aids at the local drugstore or pharmacy, no prescription needed. (Applause.) Because you know what you need. (Laughter.) On some of these things, folks can self-diagnose. Right? “I know I can’t hear something that I want to hear.”
And so, it’s practical as well as absolutely intended to bring down the cost and allow so many people to access and afford the help they need.
And so, that brings me to my final point for today, which is the important work that we are doing to cap out-of-pocket prescription drug costs.
So, imagine this — imagine for example, a 70-year-old woman goes in for her annual checkup and she complains about stiffness and pain in her joints. And after running some tests, her doctor diagnoses her with rheumatoid arthritis. And let’s say, a few days later, she goes down the street to her pharmacy to fill the prescription and she learns that the copay for a single month of pills is 6- or 700 dollars.
Across our nation, seniors with chronic medical conditions are paying as much as $10,000 a year for the medication they need to simply stay healthy and stay alive.
Seniors who have to choose between paying their rent and filling their prescription. Seniors who are forced to cut their pills in half because they cannot afford their full prescription — a prescription for the dosage that they actually require.
This has got to stop. It’s got to stop.
And this is why, beginning in 2025, our administration will cap out-of-pocket prescription drug costs to $2,000 a year for people on Medicaid [sic] — Medicare. Medicare. (Applause.) We need to extend it beyond that, but for Medicare. You know, we’ve been fighting to actually extend a lot of this beyond Medicare, but this is where we are right now. The fight is not over.
But what this means is that no matter how much your prescriptions cost, no matter how many prescriptions you have — and so many of our seniors have a dozen or more prescriptions that they need to take — for you, you will pay no more than $2,000 a year for your medicine.
And so, that means if you are on Medicare or if you will soon be on Medicare, you will no longer have to worry that one terrible diagnosis will bankrupt you or your loved ones.
So, for President Biden and me, it really does come down to this: Access to healthcare should be a right, not a privilege for those who can afford it. (Applause.) It’s that basic.
And just think about it, affordable healthcare is — it’s about your health and it’s about more. First of all, we’re talking about an essential need. Right? We’re not talking about a luxury. We’re talking about an essential need.
Also, access to affordable healthcare is about independence — independence from debt, independence from fear, independence from pain.
And affordable healthcare and access to affordable healthcare is also about peace of mind — the peace of mind that comes from knowing you will never have to choose between your physical wellbeing and your financial wellbeing.
And affordable healthcare, ultimately, is about dignity — the dignity to which all people are entitled and deserve.
And so, that is why President Biden and I will continue with this fight so that every person in our nation and every senior in our nation can access the healthcare they need and deserve.
And with that, may God bless you and may God bless America. Thank you.