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Xavier Becerra

U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra announced on January 10, 2022 that he was ordering a review of a planned 15% hike in the Medicare Part B premium. (Photo: Greg Nash/AFP via Getty Images)

'Good News for Seniors': Becerra Orders Medicare to Reassess Premium Hike

"It is unconscionable," said one advocate welcoming the announcement, "for Medicare premiums to increase this dramatically because of one corporation's greed."

Brett Wilkins

As the head of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services announced Monday that he was ordering a review of a planned 15% hike in the Medicare Part B premium for 2022, healthcare reform advocates stressed the need for Congress to pass a Build Back Better bill with a provision allowing the federal government to negotiate the price of prescription drugs.

"Pharma corporations cynically anticipate public anger at high launch prices and so plan for 'voluntary' price reductions."

HHS Secretary Xavier Becerra said that he was instructing the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) "to reassess the recommendation for the 2022 Medicare Part B premium"—a hike that progressive critics said was largely the result of the pharmaceutical industry's outrageous profiteering.

Alex Lawson, executive director of the advocacy group Social Security Works, called Becerra's announcement "good news for seniors."

"Older Americans should not have to pay $22 more for Medicare every month to cover the outrageous prices of prescription drugs," he said in a statement.

Last November, CMS announced that monthly Medicare Part B premiums would increase nearly 15% from $148.50 in 2021 to $170.10 for 2022.

Becerra cited the "dramatic" 50% price cut of pharma giant Biogen's controversial new Alzheimer's drug Aduhelm as "a compelling basis for CMS to reexamine the previous recommendation."

Lawson said public pressure was the reason Medicare may ultimately avoid the price increase, noting Biogen's decision last month to slash the price of Aduhelm from $56,000 to $28,200 per year following objections from experts and advocates over its efficacy, safety, and cost.

"But we can never rely on pharmaceutical corporations to do the right thing," Lawson cautioned. "Pharma corporations cynically anticipate public anger at high launch prices and so plan for 'voluntary' price reductions. Biogen priced it at $56,000 so they could cut the price in half and make $28,000 look 'reasonable' by comparison. They are trying to make fools of politicians and the public, and we can't let that happen."

Last week, Common Dreams reported widespread condemnation of pharmaceutical corporations for raising the prices of more than 440 medications as 2022 began.

As Common Dreams also reported, Big Pharma and private health insurers have spent enormously—over $170 million in the first nine months of 2021 alone—on lobbying against popular provisions in Democrats' flagship Build Back Better Act, including allowing Medicare to negotiate lower prescription drug prices and expanding the program to include dental and vision coverage.

Lawson said that "to permanently lower drug prices and keep corporate greed in check, we need to give Medicare the power to negotiate lower drug prices. That starts with passing the Build Back Better Act into law immediately."

Richard Fiesta, executive director of the Alliance for Retired Americans, also welcomed Becerra's announcement with a similar call for Congress to let Medicare negotiate drug prices.

"Americans pay the highest prices in the world for prescription drugs, and seniors are bearing the brunt of it," Fiesta said in a statement. "It is wrong that pharmaceutical corporations have already hiked prices for hundreds of drugs by nearly 5% this year. It is unconscionable for Medicare premiums to increase this dramatically because of one corporation's greed."

"This illustrates why Congress must take strong action to rein in the drug corporations and allow Medicare to negotiate lower drug prices for the American people," he added.

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