WA lawmakers celebrate passage of Inflation Reduction Act

The bill includes provisions to reduce prescription drug prices and climate change investments.

On Aug. 23, U.S. Senator Patty Murray and Congresswoman Kim Schrier celebrated the passage of the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA) at the Swedish Issaquah Campus.

The IRA is being touted as a policy solution that will reduce prescription drug costs by allowing Medicare to negotiate lower prescription drug costs, capping Medicare beneficiaries’ out-of-pocket prescription drugs costs and extending health care tax credits included in the American Rescue Plan.

Cathleen MacCaul, advocacy director for AARP Washington, spoke at the event in support of the Inflation Reduction Act. She said many local AARP members have mentioned the burdensome cost of expensive prescription drugs, sometimes costing over $6,000 a year for some individuals. Some have even resorted to rationing pills, she said.

Jackie Boschok, president of the Washington State Alliance for Retired Americans, said some members had been taking buses to Canada to get cheaper prescription drugs.

Murray said one of the biggest impacts of the IRA is that it will allow Medicare to negotiate drug prices with pharmaceutical companies, she said before this bill pharmaceutical companies were “unbridled” in the way they could determine the cost of life-saving drugs like insulin.

Schrier, a former pediatrician and life-long type 1 diabetic, said she has seen the way pharmaceutical companies have inflated the cost of insulin, a drug that millions of Medicare recipients use daily. She said the drug was one of the least expensive parts of being diabetic in 1985. She said in 1998 the cost of a vial of insulin was about $40 dollars, and now it sometimes costs up to $300 a vial, when it only costs $10 to make.

The Inflation Reduction Act caps the cost of insulin for Medicare beneficiaries at $35 a month.

Schrier said there are still other pharmaceutical company “shenanigans” that play a factor in the inflated cost of healthcare in the country. She said pharmaceutical salesmen are paid commission based on the percentage of their sales to healthcare providers, creating a “perverse incentive” to sell medically necessary drugs at a higher cost. She said pharmaceutical companies tweak old patents to become new products at higher prices, and pay to delay other competing patents.

Schrier said this kind of “manipulation” by the pharmaceutical industry is why Americans pay three to four times the amount that other developed countries pay for the same medications.

The bill also included several climate change mitigation provisions which include investing in forest resiliency to prevent catastrophic wildfires, supporting small forest landowners to improve forest health, funding climate-smart agriculture programs, boosting clean energy manufacturing in the U.S., creating credits for new and used electric vehicles, investing in a modernized electric grid, providing home energy efficiency rebates, reducing air pollution by providing funding to ports to reduce emissions, and cracking down on oil and gas companies that have significant methane leakage.

Murray said that the climate change mitigation, clean energy, and environmental provisions were included in the Inflation Reduction Act because the state of our environment and climate change have a true economic impact be it on industries like shellfish in Washington, or the adverse health impacts suffered as a result of climate disasters and changing conditions.

Schrier said the Inflation Reduction Act included some of the “biggest investment in climate ever” made by Congress.