Sen. DeWitte: Illinois senior citizens need Congress to pass Immunization Act

As our nation rebuilds and recovers from the aftermath of this deadly pandemic, we must make decisions that are rooted in fact with a view toward the long-term health of our citizens. It is very important that all citizens — and our U.S. Congress — look to prevention as we combat new healthcare challenges.

This is why it is so important to make sure our most vulnerable population is well cared for moving forward. We know that the mortality rate for COVID-19 patients increases the older the patients are because older Americans are much more likely to have underlying conditions that make it harder for them to fight off a virus such as COVID-19.

Moving forward, our senior citizens must be a priority and one of the best places to start would be to remove the barriers to immunizations for treatable diseases. Each year, more than 50,000 adults die from vaccine-preventable diseases not to mention the millions of people who may survive these diseases but suffer greatly in doing so.

Due to inequities in coverage of vaccines across public and private programs, many seniors do not have the access they need to vaccines. The Protecting Seniors Through Immunization Act is a bipartisan solution to this crisis.

This common-sense legislation eliminates out-of-pocket costs for vaccines covered under Medicare Part D by aligning Part D coverage of vaccines with Medicare Part B vaccine coverage in terms of deductible, coinsurance, coverage limits and annual out-of-pocket spending thresholds.

What is happening now is that many Medicare beneficiaries are incurring cost sharing because of the inconsistent coverage under Medicare Part D drug plans. There are nearly 24 million beneficiaries in standalone prescription drug plans (PDPs) who are subject to cost sharing requirements ranging from $14 to $103 per vaccine.

Studies show a direct correlation to co-pays and vaccine hesitancy. The higher the co-pay, the more likely people choose not to get the vaccine. The Protecting Seniors Through Immunization Act fixes these problems. It is a good, bipartisan bill and it will make our population healthier and more prepared to deal with future public health emergencies.

This past year thousands of Americans witnessed their loved ones fighting for their lives and in many cases, they could not even visit them or say goodbye. What happened to our nation and to the entire world is a tragedy we do not want to see repeated. We should seize that opportunity now to prevent any future tragedies.

I urge Congress to act quickly to pass the Protecting Seniors Through Immunization Act.

* State Sen. Don DeWitte (33rd District) is the Assistant Republican Leader.