Much of the public appears largely unfamiliar with the Democrats’ signature efforts to allow Medicare to negotiate drug prices, a potentially troubling signal ahead of next month’s midterm elections.
The inclusion of a provision allowing those negotiations in the inflation-reduction law is the culmination of a push that has lasted at least 20 years by Democrats and has been touted as a big win for Big Pharma.
Health care had been a trump issue for the party in previous midterm elections, and the bill’s passage was intended to give lawmakers a major political victory for the campaign.
“In this historic moment, Democrats have stood with the American people and every Republican member of Congress has aligned themselves with special interests,” President Biden told lawmakers in August when he signed the legislation into law.
Speaking to donors during a Democrats fundraiser Thursday, Biden once again highlighted the fight against the drug lobby, saying the bulk of the law was “the handling of drugs.”
“You know, we pay the highest drug prices of any country in the world for the exact same drugs, I might add. The exact same prescription,” Biden said. “Well guess what? We changed it so that no older person in Medicare would have to pay more than $2,000 a year for drug prices, no matter how much the cancer drugs cost, no matter what it was.”
But a new Kaiser Family Foundation (KFF) survey shows that most adults aren’t aware of the law’s basic health provisions.
Only 36 percent of Americans said they were aware that the Inflation Reduction Act allows Medicare to negotiate drug prices; 29 percent said they knew the law caps insulin prices for people in Medicare, and only 29 percent said they knew a cap on prescription drug costs.
THose provisions are common. A majority of voters in the same poll said they would be more likely to vote for a candidate who supports policies such as negotiating drugs for Medicare and capping drug spending for people in Medicare.
KFF President and CEO Drew Altman tweeted: “If Democratic candidates want to cash in on their popularity, they need to talk about it immediately.”
David Mitchell, president and founder of Patients for Affordable Drugs, said he wasn’t surprised that a relatively small percentage of the public was aware of the drug-pricing parts of the new law, but he wasn’t concerned either.
“People are paying closer and closer attention to issues as we get closer to Election Day. So the numbers in terms of awareness will go up in the coming weeks,” Mitchell said.
Mitchell noted that the law only passed about six weeks ago, and that it takes time to raise public awareness.
“I would like the numbers to be higher. Don’t get me wrong, but you can just go that fast. Educating people and making people aware of such political issues takes time and effort,” Mitchell said.
Outside allies are trying to help spread the message.
The pro-democracy advocacy group Protect or Care is running a nationwide tour this fall to educate Americans about the legislation and advance the work of the lawmakers who helped pass it.
He wants to avoid mistakes made with the Affordable Care Act, said Leslie Dash, founder and president of Protect Our Care, saying that Democrats have not done enough to counter Republican attacks and allow the opposition to hijack the narrative.
“One of the mistakes we let it happen was… we talked about the name of the law, not things [the law did]Dutch said, the name of the law does not matter. “People will say, you know, I hate Obamacare, but I love the fact that my kids can stay on my insurance until age 26.”
Biden is set to highlight the benefits of the Inflation Cut Act for Older Americans during events in California and Oregon over the weekend. His message aims to reinforce the idea that Democrats are addressing issues of importance to the average family.
“Americans are caught up in the cost of living — that has been true for years and is a major reason why the president is running,” the White House said in a fact sheet. “Health care costs in particular are driving inflation.”
According to the White House, Biden will also highlight how every Republican in Congress voted against the legislation, and that they now want to repeal it.
However, voters won’t see the drug’s biggest benefits in law until years later. A cap on insulin costs of $35 per month for Medicare diabetic patients takes effect in 2023. The cap of $2,000 annual drug costs for people enrolled in Medicare’s prescription drug benefits will not start until 2025.
The bill’s best-known health care offering, allowing Medicare to negotiate costs for select drugs, won’t begin until 2026. Until then, negotiations will initially be limited to just 10 drugs; It will be expanded to 20 drugs by 2029.
“Less than a month after the election, you’re going to talk about something you’ll give me in two, three or four years. And I’m in pain now,” said Joel White, a health care industry consultant and former GOP employee.