Democrats in Congress celebrated a huge win last week with final passage of the Inflation Reduction Act, officially signed into law on Tuesday by President Biden. Originally dubbed Build Back Better, the bill was festooned like a Christmas tree with provisions ranging from slowing climate change, to child tax credits, and a variety of other measures to beef up support for working families. But in the end, it had to be trimmed to squeak through the Senate, with all Democrats voting in favor and Vice President Kamala Harris casting the tie-breaking vote. The bill also passed the House with zero help from Republicans. Major elements to slow global warming and help for Americans with health insurance and sky high drug prices survived.
Okay, so we didn’t get universal pre-kindergarten, lower childcare costs, paid family and sick leave and the enhanced child tax credit—all provisions that got dropped in the spirit of “compromise” with Republicans who insisted on tax protection for their mega-million corporate cronies. (Funny how those so-called compromises always seem to throw women—and children—overboard first.) But overall, women can celebrate the passage of legislation that will benefit them for years to come.
There’s quite a bit of good news. Women are the big winners when it comes to the healthcare provisions in the new law, which makes the most substantial changes to national healthcare policy since passage of the Affordable Care Act in 2010. For starters, it will limit the amount Medicare recipients have to pay out of pocket for drugs to $2,000 annually—a major benefit for older women, because they’re the majority of older Americans, outnumbering men on Medicare 55.6 to 44.4 percent.
Democrats have been fighting for the ability to force drugmakers into lowering prices since 1965, but the pharmaceutical lobby and Republican opposition was always able to shoot down those efforts—until now.
The bill also empowers the Health and Human Services Secretary to negotiate prices for certain drugs covered under two different parts of Medicare, and punish pharmaceutical companies that don’t play by the rules. Democrats have been fighting for the ability to force drugmakers into lowering prices since the program was implemented in 1965, but the gargantuan pharmaceutical lobby and Republican opposition was always able to shoot down those efforts—until now. This change alone is expected to save thousands of dollars per year for the majority-female Medicare beneficiaries, and lower premiums at the same time.
Though the specific drugs that will be targeted have not been announced, a couple on the short list are needed primarily by older women. One is Regeneron’s Eylea, an injection for macular degeneration. About two-thirds of people with age-related macular degeneration (AMD) are female. Another drug mentioned in the mix is Amgen’s Prolia—an injection for osteoporosis, which is four times more common in women than in men.
Younger women below Medicare age will also benefit from other medical provisions in the Inflation Reduction Act. According to the latest analysis of Bureau of Labor Statistic data, single women in the U.S. consistently pay more than men for health insurance, both in dollars and as a percentage of their earnings. To help close the gap, medical insurance premiums under the Affordable Care Act have been subsidized by the federal government since the onset of COVID, when women were spending an average of 6.8 percent of their annual pre-tax income on health insurance—nearly double the 3.9 percent spent by men. (Even the lowest income women making an average of $8,130 per year were paying a staggering $1,685 in health insurance premiums.) The subsidies were scheduled to expire at the end of this year, but thanks to the new law will now be extended through 2025.
So even though women and families didn’t get the proverbial whole enchilada, and the fight for the family support issues must be postponed for another day, right now many of the benefits in the Inflation Reduction Act tilt toward the girls. And that’s definitely something to celebrate.
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