Heart Medications Will Become More Affordable to Millions of Medicare Beneficiaries Under the Inflation Reduction Act, Researchers Estimate

Written by: Jacqueline Mitchell Contact: Chloe Meck, cmeck@bilh.org

MARCH 06, 2023

BOSTON – Cardiovascular diseases are the leading causes of death worldwide, including in the United States where about 20 percent of all deaths are caused by heart disease. Highly effective medications can lower the rates of death and disability related to cardiovascular diseases. However, the expense of long-term prescription medications represents a significant barrier to care for many patients with chronic cardiovascular conditions. The Inflation Reduction Act — signed into law in August 2022 — includes several clauses related to drug benefits that are expected to lower prescription medication costs for Medicare Part D beneficiaries over time and expand low-income subsidies.

In two studies presented at the American College of Cardiology Scientific Sessions, researchers at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center (BIDMC) analyzed data to estimate how the provisions in the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA) may affect Medicare beneficiaries with cardiovascular risk factors and conditions. The analysis projects that millions of beneficiaries will experience lower out-of-pocket drug costs.

“Out-of-pocket prescription drug costs have risen steadily in the United States,” said Rishi K. Wadhera, MD, MPP, MPhil, section head of Health Policy and Equity at the Smith Center for Outcomes Research at BIDMC and senior author of one study, which is being simultaneously published in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology. “Because high costs impede access to medications and create financial hardship for many patients, addressing high and rising drug costs has become a national priority. By capping out-of-pocket prescription drug costs and expanding full subsidies to low-income individuals, the IRA could lead to improvement in medication adherence and ultimately health outcomes for Medicare beneficiaries with cardiovascular risk factors or conditions.”

Using federal data collected in 2016-2019, Wadhera and colleagues found that, presently, more than 34 million US adults 65 years or older are covered by Part D and report at least one cardiovascular risk factor or condition.

Medicare Part D provides prescription drug coverage to Medicare beneficiaries; however, deductibles, co-payments, lack of an out-of-pocket maximum, and the infamous coverage gap known as the “donut hole” — which limits coverage for drugs only once certain spending thresholds have been reached — mean patients who need high-cost and/or long-term medications to manage chronic conditions could be responsible for thousands of dollars every year. Provisions in the IRA are expected to address these out-of-pocket expenses for cardiovascular drugs by eliminating the donut hole prescription coverage gap and placing a $2,000 cap on annual out-of-pocket expenses.

Wadhera and colleagues’ analysis revealed that the IRA’s annual spending cap would likely benefit more than one million beneficiaries who currently experience out-of-pocket drug costs in excess of $2,000 a year. Further, the team estimated that this population would save a combined $1.7 billion annually as a result of the spending cap. The researchers also estimated that under the IRA’s expansion of income eligibility criteria, approximately 1.3 million more Medicare beneficiaries with cardiovascular risk factors or conditions will qualify for low-income subsidies.

“The expansion of full low-income subsidies is critically important, as nearly one third of this population will be individuals from underserved racial and ethnic backgrounds, and highlights the potential equity implications of the IRA,” said first author Prihatha R. Narasimmaraj, MD, an incoming cardiology fellow at BIDMC.

The second study, led by Dhruv S. Kazi, MD, MSc, MS, associate director of the Smith Center for Outcomes Research and director of the Cardiac Critical Care Unit at BIDMC, projected the impact of the Inflation Reduction Act on four cardiovascular conditions which frequently require long-term, high-cost treatment regimens; severe high cholesterol, two forms of heart failure and a rare, progressive disease of the heart muscle called cardiac transthyretin amyloidosis. The team analyzed more than 4,000 Part D plans nationwide and compared projected out-of-pocket drug costs for each condition in 2022-2025. The researchers found that by 2025, the IRA would lower out-of-pocket drug costs for all four conditions, with reductions ranging from a few hundred dollars to several thousand dollars. For instance, patients with cardiac transthyretin amyloidosis, the condition with the most expensive treatment in the study, would see an 87% reduction in their out-of-pocket costs.  

“These reductions in costs for patients and Medicare is a win-win, as we know that affordability is a big challenge to accessing potentially life-saving cardiovascular therapies,” said Kazi. “For the first time since the launch of Medicare’s prescription drug program, IRA will lead it to directly negotiate prices with manufacturers. While I am optimistic about what this means for the millions of Americans living with heart disease, it’s important to remember that cardiovascular therapies may still remain beyond the reach of some patients even with these markedly reduced out-of-pocket costs. Clinicians should continue to have regular conversations about medication affordability with their patients.”

Co-authors of the study led by Wadhera and Narasimmaraj included Dhruv Kazi, MD, MSc, MS, Andrew Oseran, MD, MBA, Archana Tale, MPH, Jiaman Xu, MPH, and Robert W. Yeh, MD, MSc, of BIDMC; and Utibe R. Essien, MD, MPH, of University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine. This research project was supported by grant R01HL164561 from the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute. Co-authors of the study led by Kazi include Collete de Jong, MD, Randi Chen, Rishi Wadhera, MD, and Chien-Wen Tseng, MD, of the University of Hawaii. Wadhera, Yeh, and Kazi receive research support from the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (R01HL164561, R01HL157530, and K23HL148525) at the National Institutes of Health. Wadhera currently serves as a consultant for Abbott and CVS Health, outside the submitted work. Yeh has received consulting and research grants from AstraZeneca. All other authors have no disclosures.

About Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center

Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center is a leading academic medical center, where extraordinary care is supported by high-quality education and research. BIDMC is a teaching affiliate of Harvard Medical School, and consistently ranks as a national leader among independent hospitals in National Institutes of Health funding. BIDMC is the official hospital of the Boston Red Sox.

Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center is a part of Beth Israel Lahey Health, a health care system that brings together academic medical centers and teaching hospitals, community and specialty hospitals, more than 4,700 physicians and 39,000 employees in a shared mission to expand access to great care and advance the science and practice of medicine through groundbreaking research and education.