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Sanders to WH: Cut Back Medicare Hike  12/04 08:48


   WASHINGTON (AP) -- Sen. Bernie Sanders is asking the White House to cut back 
a big Medicare premium hike set to take effect in weeks and tied to a pricey 
Alzheimer's drug whose benefits have been widely questioned.

   In a letter Friday to President Joe Biden, the Vermont Independent called on 
the president to act immediately to prevent the portion of an "outrageous 
increase" in Medicare premiums that's attributable to Aduhelm, a newly approved 
Alzheimer's medicine from drugmaker Biogen, priced at $56,000 a year.

   If Biden agreed and found a way to do it, a planned January increase of 
$21.60 a month to Medicare's "Part B" premium for outpatient care would be 
slashed closer to $10. The monthly premium for 2022 would drop from $170.10 to 
about $159.

   Biden's massive social agenda legislation takes significant steps to curb 
prescription drug costs, but Democrats are running the risk that seniors 
smarting from one of the biggest increases ever in Medicare premiums will turn 
against them in the 2022 midterm elections. That increase would claw back a big 
chunk of next year's Social Security cost-of-living allowance, a boost of about 
$92 a month for the average retired worker, to help cover rising prices for gas 
and food.

   "Biogen's $56,000 price of Aduhelm is the poster child for how dysfunctional 
our prescription drug pricing system has become," Sanders wrote to Biden. "The 
notion that one pharmaceutical company can raise the price of one drug so much 
that it could negatively impact 57 million senior citizens and the future of 
Medicare is beyond absurd. With Democrats in control of the White House, the 
House and the Senate we cannot let that happen." A copy of the letter was 
provided to The Associated Press.

   There was no immediate comment from the White House. Biden is planning a 
speech Monday on the prescription drug provisions of his legislation, including 
an annual cap of $2,000 on out-of-pocket costs for Medicare recipients, $35 
monthly copays for insulin, inflation rebates that would also help people with 
private insurance, and the first-ever Medicare-negotiated prices. The catch is 
that those benefits will phase in over time and the Medicare premium hike would 
hit after the New Year. It's not clear if Biden will address the premiums.

   The boost in premiums "could not come at a worse time for older Americans 
all over this country who are struggling economically," Sanders wrote.

   The jump of $21.60 a month is the biggest increase ever for Medicare 
premiums in dollar terms, although not percentage-wise. As recently as August, 
the Medicare Trustees' report had projected a smaller increase of $10 from the 
current $148.50. Medicare said it had to boost the rate higher to set aside a 
contingency fund in case the program formally approves coverage for Aduhelm.

   Alzheimer's is a progressive neurological disease with no known cure, 
affecting about 6 million Americans, the vast majority old enough to qualify 
for Medicare.

   Aduhelm is the first Alzheimer's medication in nearly 20 years, although it 
doesn't cure the disease. The Food and Drug Administration approved the drug 
this summer, determining that Aduhelm's ability to reduce clumps of plaque in 
the brain is likely to slow dementia. That decision was highly controversial, 
since the FDA overrode its own outside advisers. Many experts say Aduhelm's 
benefit has not been clearly demonstrated. The Department of Veterans Affairs 
declined to list the medicine on its roster of approved drugs.

   Medicare has begun a formal assessment to determine whether it should cover 
the drug, and a final decision isn't likely until at least the spring. For now, 
Medicare is deciding on a case-by-case basis whether to pay for Aduhelm.

   Sanders asked Biden to order Medicare to hold off on approving coverage of 
Aduhelm until there is scientific consensus about its benefits.

   Biogen has defended its pricing, saying it looked carefully at costs of 
advanced medications to treat cancer and other conditions. A nonprofit think 
tank focused on drug pricing pegged Adulhelm's actual value at between $3,000 
and $8,400 per year -- not $56,000 -- based on its unproven benefits.

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