Thistlethwaite: Finally, action on climate and prescription drugs

This week, President Joe Biden signed the Inflation Reduction Act. Finally, Americans are getting some concrete, practical help to really fight climate change and to lower prescription drug costs for seniors. It will be paid for with revenue generated by getting large corporations to kick in (some of) their fair share. And it will reduce inflation and the deficit.

This is called governing, and it has been sorely missed in this hyper-polarized political environment. And the Democrats had to do it without a single Republican vote.

That is frankly shameful. Do the Republicans actually want to stand by and do nothing while the forests in Western states like Colorado burn and we run completely dry of water? And equally shameful, Republicans left the Medicare cap on Insulin cost alone but stripped it for other patients.

I do not understand why protecting the planet from burning up and helping the 7.9 million Americans who need insulin, 14% of whom face “catastrophic levels of spending” to pay for that life-saving drug, are political footballs.

Diabetics can suffer and even die from rationing insulin. Americans are suffering and dying from heat, fires and flood. There should be no politics in this. Alleviating suffering from climate change and for diabetics who need insulin is a moral imperative.

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But at last, we have some action.

The climate provisions in the bill mark a significant shift in thinking about how to reduce the harmful emissions that are the drivers of the destructive climate change we see today. Instead of a tax approach that would put a fee (cap-and-trade) on carbon-based fuel pollution and thus hopefully encourage investment in clean alternatives, the bill invests in clean energy directly. Economists have favored the cap-and-trade approach, while the environmental community has favored investment.

So, Biden has put his signature on a bill that is composed of benefits instead of taxes. Promoting good wage jobs, relief for disadvantaged neighborhoods overburdened with pollution, and revival of communities left behind by coal are all in there.  

The insulin provision helps Medicare patients, and that is good. It caps insulin at $35 per month for Medicare beneficiaries.

But no help for other Americans. Big Pharma makes a lot of money from marking up insulin. Biden said, in his State of the Union speech in February, “Insulin costs about $10 a vial to make, that’s what it costs the — the pharmaceutical company,” Biden said, “But drug companies charge families … up to 30 times that amount.” 

I am hoping that the insulin provision in the Inflation Reduction Act of 2022 will be the first crack in the dam protecting Big Pharma from the regulation of insulin prices across the board.

The good news is there is good news. There is positive action to reduce catastrophic effects of climate change and help for seniors who are diabetics and many other needed actions.

Thank you, Pres. Biden, for not giving up on practical climate action and drug prices while working to reduce the deficit and curb inflation.

Rev. Dr. Susan Brooks Thistlethwaite is president emerita and professor emerita of Chicago Theological Seminary. She and her husband now make their home in the Vail Valley.

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