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Protecting the Solvency of Medicare During this Pandemic

The opinions expressed by columnists are their own and do not necessarily represent the views of
AP Photo/Rick Bowmer, File

As the coronavirus engulfs the nation and embroils the country in a debate about how to reopen its economy, it is imperative now more than ever that we protect society's most vulnerable groups – the elderly and those with underlying health conditions.

Unfortunately, even before the rapid onset of COVID-19, the American people were already struggling to pay for their needed medications. With the added strain from the pandemic, fears that the system could begin to buckle have grown. We can't wait another day to act when it could mean lives on the line.

Fortunately, Reps. Richard Hudson, Brian Fitzpatrick (R-Penn.), and Angie Craig (D-Minn.) recently put forward legislation that will reduce the current strain on the Medicare program through increasing competition and market forces. Their bill, the Increasing Access to Biosimilars Act (IABA), will create a three-year pilot program that allows the government and doctors to assess the benefits of making greater use of low-cost biosimilars for Medicare beneficiaries.

Biologic medicines are some of the most expensive medications Medicare offers. Many Medicare beneficiaries rely heavily on these treatments for autoimmune disorders and cancer; however, the prohibitive cost of the drugs is keeping them out of the hands of patients across the nation.

The increased utilization of biosimilars made possible by IABA will help to change this accessibility problem. Biosimilars, which are a biological product developed to be similar to an already FDA-approved medicine, have been found to cost up to 30-percent less, with one study showing they can save the U.S. healthcare system as much as $150 million over the next ten years.

These cost reductions will benefit taxpayers as much as they will patients, and they’ve come just in time. There is no doubt that the current pandemic will continue to put pressure on the Medicare system. Medicare Part B, which covers medical services and supplies necessary to treat those over the age of 65, began covering all coronavirus testing costs as of March 3. Medicare requirements and participation conditions are also being waived due to national emergency declaration, placing further burdens on the program. Some predict that these added costs will stretch Social Security and Medicare to the breaking point, leading to concerns about increasing payroll taxes to make up the difference.

IABA can put a stop to those talks – helping seniors without threatening the system designed to protect them. The legislation is a commonsense, bipartisan solution that will provide Medicare patients much-needed financial relief in these difficult times, all while giving access to effective treatments that currently remain out of reach for too many.

Congressional leadership should consider calling it for a vote, and soon. Each day we wait is another missed opportunity to get seniors the medications they need. As the coronavirus continues to wreak havoc across our state and nation, it's time for us to act by passing legislation to protect our most vulnerable citizens with the affordable drugs they need at a price that won’t break the bank.

Mr. Martin is the Founder and Chairman of the 60 Plus Association, representing more than five million seniors nationally. 

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