Secretary Xavier Becerra

Marine Corp veteran Ty Simpson Jones, left, talks about his healthcare experiences with Secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services Xavier Becerra, second from right, and Congressman Steven Horsford (D-NV 4th District), right, during a discussion on affordable healthcare at North Las Vegas City Hall Wednesday, June 19, 2024.

When Ty Jones was diagnosed with prostate cancer a few years ago, he immediately began seeking treatment from the Veterans Affairs Medical Center in North Las Vegas.

The condition advanced to metastatic cancer, meaning it had spread to other areas of his body. And unfortunately, the VA Medical Center was limited in the drugs it could offer him for treatment.

When he turned 65 and gained other health care options through Medicare, Jones switched to a hormone inhibitor called Xtandi that slows the progression of his advanced cancer. But those shots cost him over $7,000 each, he said, and there was “no way (he) could afford it out of pocket.”

Then, six months ago, his fortune changed with a call from his physician saying Xtendi had been approved to be covered 100% by Medicare.

Jones, a U.S. Marine veteran and co-chair of the North Las Vegas Democratic Club, choked up as he sat in the office of U.S. Rep Steven Horsford, D-Nev., on Wednesday afternoon thanking the Nevada politician for his work in lowering prescription drug prices for senior citizens.

“I’m really happy with our Democratic Party and Democratic members of Congress who have been pushing this,” Jones said. “It really took a burden off of me because I got to deal with the cash itself, but I shouldn’t have to deal with not being able to pay for treatment.”

Jones was speaking at an event hosted by Horsford with Xavier Becerra, the U.S. secretary of Health and Human Services, and a group of other residents who detailed how prescription drug prices affected their lives.

Resident Donna Darden talked about her father, whose income had “whittled down” to only $500 a month in the final five years of life and left him unable to pay for his blood pressure medication.

Donna West, the chairman of the Nevada Democratic Senior Caucus, said her husband was diagnosed with atrial fibrillation 12 years ago and needed to switch medications after being hospitalized because of an incident caused by his previous prescriptions. He wouldn’t have been able to get his $141-a-month medication had drug prices not been lowered, she said.

President Joe Biden’s Inflation Reduction Act calls for prescription drug prices for seniors on Medicare to be lowered and out-of-pocket expenses capped at $2,000 per year starting in 2025, the White House said. The act also capped the price of insulin, which helps regulate diabetes, at $35 a month for Medicare users.

The changes will save nearly 15 million people an average of $800 a year on their health insurance premiums, the Biden administration said.

“There’s no reason why Americans should be paying three, four times more for the same drug that someone else’s paying in another part of the world, especially when it’s a drug invented here and manufactured here,” Becerra said.

As of February 2024, there were 67.1 million people enrolled in Medicare, with roughly 90% being 65 years or older, according to the U.S. Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services. The data showed that about 593,204 Nevadans and 402,182 Clark County residents were beneficiaries of Medicaid.

Horsford said the large number of people on Medicare is why he keeps fighting for a lower price tag on prescription drugs.

But Becerra doesn’t want to stop there. The goal: Low drug costs for everyone. Since passage of the Inflation Reduction Act in 2022 and under pressure from the White House, the three major pharmaceutical companies that make insulin announced they would cap the monthly price at $35 for all insulin users.

As Medicare negotiates the prices of prescription drugs with the Department of Health and Human Services for the first time ever, Biden proposed that Medicare be able to negotiate for all major drugs that seniors rely on to treat conditions such as heart disease, cancer and diabetes. Currently the federal government is negotiating with drug manufacturers on only 10 of Medicare’s “most widely used and expensive drugs.”

In 2025, Biden also plans to urge Congress to expand the $2,000 out-of-pocket cap to all private insurance.

Horsford introduced the Health Providers Training Act earlier this month to boost staffing in all areas of health care by bringing more people into medical school and removing some of the barriers — like high tuition and debt — that would steer people away, he explained.

Through funding from the American Rescue Plan, Nevada was able to establish a Grow Your Own Apprenticeship program at Desert View Hospital in Pahrump to train nurses, and Horsford wants to use that as a model after seeing the success, he said.

Those efforts from the likes Becerra and Horsford are already working, West emphasized.

One of her grandsons has a severe egg allergy and needed multiple EpiPens to stock at home, school and in cars. The price was “astronomical,” especially having to buy three pens at once, but that’s since been reduced, she said.

West’s other grandson with asthma was also facing high prices for his inhalers that have come down due to the legislation. It gives West hope for not only herself, but other Americans that rely on prescription drugs and need to save money.

“I know we’re going to do a lot more together with President Biden and Vice President (Kamala) Harris and a whole lot of people who are committed to these issues like all of you are,” Horsford said.

[email protected] / 702-948-7854 / @gracedarocha

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