AANHPI Heritage Month & The Inflation Reduction Act

By Julia Lothrop

During Asian American, Native Hawaiian, and Pacific Islander (AANHPI) Heritage Month, our communities celebrate the rich cultures, heritage, and accomplishments of AANHPI people. May is also a time to recognize remaining barriers to health and health care access for these communities and renew commitments to addressing racial disparities. Our ability to get and afford health care should never depend on the color of our skin, what neighborhood we live in, or what language we speak.

As Acting Regional Director for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services in Region 6, which includes the state of Texas, I am proud to be a part of the Administration’s work to implement policies that improve access, advance equity, and promote economic opportunities for Asian American, Native Hawaiian, and Pacific Islanders. The new lower cost prescription drug law, the Inflation Reduction Act, is making historic strides towards improving health for all communities – including the 2.1 million Medicare beneficiaries who identify as Asian. The new law is vital for people who access health care services at the HOPE Clinic – a Federally Qualified Health Center started by the Asian American Health Coalition to serve Houston’s isolated Asian communities and other under-served populations.

Asian American people with Medicare report more difficulty obtaining their prescription drugs than their white counterparts, underscoring the need for better access and affordability for needed medicines. The president’s new lower cost drug law is bringing relief to AA and NHPI Medicare enrollees who may be struggling to afford high drug costs. The Inflation Reduction Act expanded its Extra Help program for Part D beginning in January, which means over 11 thousand AANHPI Medicare enrollees with low incomes may be eligible for $0 premiums, $0 deductibles, and generic drug copays that are no more than $4.50. But we need your help spreading the word to your loved ones and neighbors, as 3 million people are eligible for these benefits but are not enrolled. Go to Medicare.gov/extrahelp for more information and to see if you’re eligible. And to spread the word, go to LowerDrugCosts.gov to find a toolkit that contains informational postcards.

Asian Americans are 40 percent more likely to be diagnosed with diabetes than non-Hispanic whites, so access to insulin and other diabetes medicine is essential for achieving blood sugar control and maintaining good health. One of the first benefits of the Inflation Reduction Act to go into effect – and one of the most important provisions – caps the cost of each covered insulin product under Medicare at $35 per month. In Texas, over 114,000 people with Medicare could save $441 per year, thanks to this benefit. The new law also makes certain recommended adult vaccines, like Shingles and RSV, available at no cost for people with Part D coverage—helping eliminate cost-related barriers to vaccination for people with Medicare.  In Texas, approximately 3.5 million Medicare Part D enrollees can receive free recommended preventative vaccines. Finally, under this administration, we have begun the historic process of negotiating directly with participating drug companies for lower prescription drug prices for some of the most expensive drugs – for the first time ever.

This administration is delivering on its promise to lower prescription drug costs, make health insurance more affordable, and make the economy work for Asian American, Native Hawaiian, and Pacific Islander families. But we know our work is not done – this administration will continue to make health equity a cornerstone of our policies and work tirelessly so that all communities can access the care they need.

Julia Lothrop is the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Acting Regional Director for Arkansas, Louisiana, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Texas, and 68 Federally Qualified Tribes. She has worked with the regional office for over 20 years.