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Caring for our seniors during and after coronavirus

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The ability to maximize living out one’s golden years is a principal promise of the American Dream. Before the outbreak of coronavirus, there were many challenges facing our seniors’ ability to do so — the high cost of prescription drugs, the need to preserve and protect Social Security and Medicare and more, but, unfortunately, the outbreak of coronavirus has only created more challenges for our nation’s older Americans.

The coronavirus outbreak hit our seniors hard, especially those who live in assisted living facilities or nursing homes. Early in the outbreak, New York state made the fatally flawed decision to place coronavirus patients back into these buildings, which exposed everyone else there and cost thousands of lives. Additionally, those who work at these assisted living facilities and nursing homes must have access to readily available testing to ensure they’re not unintentionally exposing those they care for. To this day, too many families haven’t seen their loved ones in months, and as we emerge from the outbreak of coronavirus, we must ensure that we’re working towards reuniting families however possible. A critical step in doing so is ensuring those seniors who want it, have access to a vaccine as we develop distribution plans. 

As we fight to get our nation through this moment in time, we must also look to our seniors’ future, and the next generation of seniors, and preserving and protecting Social Security is vital. We must improve the way cost of living benefits are paid out to beneficiaries. For example, regional disparities for housing, utility and general expenses must be taken into account when calculating payments, and without providing a more individualized approach to this situation, we are doomed to repeat the same mistakes that have plagued this system for years.

The cost of prescription drugs has been very difficult for our seniors. The best way to combat rising costs of prescription drugs while encouraging innovation is in a bipartisan fashion, and there are a lot of bipartisan solutions out there. For example, allowing the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to approve multiple generic applications of the same drug, resulting in more generic competition, and speeding cures to market. The FDA must create a more streamlined approach to the regulation of over-the-counter products, increasing the availability of these products, which will lower costs for consumers. We must prevent drug manufacturers from withholding samples of their drugs in order to delay patients’ access to generic competition, and more.

For our seniors specifically, we need to place a cap on seniors’ out-of-pocket drug costs and allow seniors to manage their annual out-of-pocket spending and require insurance companies to cap the cost of insulin for seniors on Medicare Part D.

We’ve seen great success with Medicare Part D and, with some reforms, this program could provide a rough outline of a solution when it comes to negotiating drug prices. Within Medicare Part D, private non-profit and for-profit health insurance companies bid to provide prescription drug coverage for Medicare beneficiaries and separately negotiate prices with pharmaceutical companies. The incentive for Part D plan sponsors to negotiate lower prices comes from the fact that they can then reduce their premiums for Medicare beneficiaries and therefore attract more customers. Due to the fact the taxpayer subsidy depends on the bids submitted by plan sponsors, this competition benefits not only Medicare beneficiaries and our seniors, but taxpayers overall. Medicare Part D should be reformed to provide plans with increased flexibility to enhance negotiating power with drug manufacturers and drive down costs for beneficiaries.

Above all else, we must do everything we can to keep our promise to our nation’s seniors and ensure they have the resources they need to live independently and happily in retirement. That means not only getting our country’s seniors through this outbreak of coronavirus safely, but paving a path that ensures they can continue to maximize life in their golden years as we seek to emerge from this outbreak stronger than ever before.

Lee Zeldin represents New York’s 1st District.

Tags American Reliable Voter Lee Zeldin Medicare Part D Out-of-pocket expense Prescription drug Social Security

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