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Opinion | $35 insulin cap and free shingles vaccine a blessing for seniors

As has become far too common around the country, seniors across Michigan often have to choose between life-saving medications and having enough money to buy groceries, pay the rent and keep the lights turned on.

Linda Vail is the Ingham County health officer.

That’s particularly true for our seniors who rely on insulin day in and day out, and who must keep current on vaccinations, including the shingles vaccine, to stay a step ahead of potentially life-threatening illnesses. 

As Ingham County health officer, I’ve witnessed firsthand the gravely serious consequences of diabetes patients self-rationing their insulin so they can cover their basic living expenses. 

As many as one-in-four of the seven million Americans who are dependent on insulin are skipping or skimping on doses, which can lead to severe complications, including death. Meanwhile, the costs of the four most popular types of insulin have tripled over the past decade.

This is of particular concern to our Black and Hispanic populations. People of color are disproportionately affected by diabetes, with over 12 percent of Black adults and nearly 12 percent of Hispanic adults nationwide being diagnosed with the disease. 

It’s also of concern to our rural communities, where diabetes risk factors are higher with less access to health care providers, fewer transportation options to receive care and higher uninsured rates. 

Under the Inflation Reduction Act, as of Jan. 1, monthly insulin costs are capped at $35 for Medicare recipients. This is nothing short of a lifesaving game changer for seniors in all corners of Michigan, and a major step toward reducing massive racial and geographical inequities in health care.

Far too often, seniors in Michigan and across the country lapse on critical vaccinations, including for shingles, which left untreated can lead to serious complications such as long-term nerve pain, blindness and brain inflammation. 

Medicare-enrolled recipients may have to pay up to $424 for the shingles vaccine — a huge burden for our seniors on fixed incomes. Roughly half of U.S. adults report they put off or skipped some type of care in the past year due to cost. The cost of the shingles vaccine has been a driving factor in keeping vaccination rates especially low in communities of color.

Also effective Jan. 1 under the Inflation Reduction Act, seniors on Medicare Part D can get the shingles vaccine at no cost. This is great news for the more than 61 million Medicare beneficiaries nationwide who now have access to the vaccine without breaking the bank. 

For too long, our healthcare system has been fragmented, leaving many at a disadvantage when it comes to access to care. A big part of that fragmentation is brought about by pharmaceutical and insurance companies that complicate the provider-patient relationship, where the needs of the patient are paramount. This creates situations that force millions of Americans to choose between paying the bills or affording the medications they need to survive. 

While not a panacea to our health care system, the Inflation Reduction Act is taking great strides toward providing more equitable health care for all Americans and ensuring health care is a right – not a privilege. 

Bridge welcomes guest columns from a diverse range of people on issues relating to Michigan and its future. The views and assertions of these writers do not necessarily reflect those of Bridge or The Center for Michigan. Bridge does not endorse any individual guest commentary submission. If you are interested in submitting a guest commentary, please contact David Zeman. Click here for details and submission guidelines.

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