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Baltimore seniors glean how new federal law cuts Medicare prescription costs

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Bethany Raja
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Baltimore City held an event for residents to discuss ways prescription drug prices will be controlled.

Baltimore City resident Arthur Green has cancer. He’s 70 years old and his social security check isn’t enough to cover both his monthly living expenses and hospital bills.

“They’re [hospital bills are] in the thousands. I’m retired and I cannot make ends meet, so I’m looking for a solution,” Green said.

His story isn’t unusual.

Dozens gathered Friday at the Wexler Senior Center for an event hosted by advocacy group Maryland Healthcare for All to learn how the Inflation Reduction Act and the Maryland Board of Prescription Affordability may help.

U.S. Rep. John Sarbanes, who represents the third congressional district in Maryland, said the federal Reduction Act will cap out of pocket drug spending at $2,000 a year in 2025 for Medicare recipients.

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Bethany Raja
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70-year-old Baltimore resident Arthur Green has been battling cancer for the past year. Green's hospital bills and basic necessities are out of reach.

“This is significant for thousands of people in the State of Maryland whose costs exceed that, whose out of pocket costs exceed that and when you’re paying that much for drugs, it means you’re having to cut back on other things you need. It’s just not affordable,” Sarbanes said.

The federal legislation will cap out-of-pocket monthly spending on insulin at $35 a month for Medicare recipients, make all vaccines free, and give the Medicare program the ability to negotiate prices of certain higher cost medications.

“Because we’re now making sure those prescription drugs are more affordable when Medicare goes to buy them, this bill is actually going to save the federal government close to $240 million over the next 10 years,” he said.

Maryland was the first state in the nation to establish the Maryland Board of Prescription Affordability. Its Executive Director Andrew York said they’ll soon be publishing a report that looks at what causes prescription drugs to be affordable.

The board, he said, has released their first set of recommendations that they hope to complete within the next few months.

“The first one is to move forward with something called our upper payments plan, so we have the authority to set upper payment limits,” York said.

Other work the group plans on starting is working on a transparency plan and implementing an insulin affordability plan that will cap insulin for insured Maryland residents at $30.

Baltimore City Mayor Brandon Scott said the high cost of prescription drugs present a serious barrier to care for vulnerable communities.

“Far too often, our residents, especially our older adults are forced to choose between life saving medications and other necessities like rent or groceries. This is unacceptable anywhere, especially in the wealthiest country in the history of the world,” he said.

Scott said that drugs don’t work if people can’t afford them.

As for Green? He says he has his good days and his bad days. His sister helps him often and his faith sustains him.

Bethany Raja is WYPR's City Hall Reporter
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