Retired Arizona teacher touts Biden’s efforts to protect seniors’ economic security

More than one million Arizona seniors are covered by Medicare Part D, including Linda Somo of the Arizona Alliance for Retired Americans, who worries that a second Trump term would undo progress made in lowering drug costs and lead to cuts to Social Security. (Photo courtesy of Linda Somo)

By Sophie Boudreau

May 15, 2024

Linda Somo is no newcomer to fighting for her rights and the issues that matter to her.

The Mesa-based retired teacher—who also counts herself a mother, grandmother, and great-grandmother—was heavily involved in the Arizona Education Association during her working years. After retiring, she joined the Arizona Alliance for Retired Americans, which operates as a coalition under the American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations (AFL-CIO), the nation’s largest federation of union members.

And last August, Somo was elected president of the Alliance.

“We have approximately 50,000 members in Arizona in a variety of unions that we represent,” Somo said. “Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid—those are our big issues, as well as voter protection and senior rights.”

Ahead of the 2024 presidential election, the senior vote matters—especially in Arizona, where, in 2020, President Joe Biden became the first Democratic presidential candidate to win the state’s electoral votes since Bill Clinton’s victory in 1996. Biden prevailed over Republican challenger Donald Trump by just a 0.3% margin in Arizona, which equated to around 10,000 votes.

Somo hopes for another “blue” outcome this fall.

Prescription cost cuts for seniors attributed to Inflation Reduction Act

Somo and other Alliance members point to Biden’s investments in Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security as evidence of the administration’s support for seniors.

Alliance members have directly benefited from Biden’s Medicare expansions and caps on prescription drugs, Somo said. One of her Alliance colleagues was previously paying upwards of $500 per month on prescription drugs—but implementation of cost control efforts, like Biden’s $35 monthly cap on insulin for Medicare recipients—has brought prices down.

“That’s one of our biggest causes of inflation, especially for seniors, is the cost of prescription drugs,” Somo said. “So bringing those prices down has been a godsend for senior citizens.”

These changes to prescription drug prices are thanks largely to Biden’s 2022 Inflation Reduction Act (IRA). In addition to capping insulin at $35 per month for Medicare beneficiaries, the IRA gave Medicare the green light to negotiate with pharmaceutical companies to competitively adjust pricing for commonly-used, high-cost drugs. The first 10 drugs that Medicare is negotiating prices on were chosen last fall, and they include treatments for heart disease, chronic kidney disease, and blood clots.

Arizona is home to more than 1.1 million seniors covered by Medicare Part D.

An analysis from the Department of Health and Human Services also says the IRA’s planned $2,000 cap on Medicare recipients’ out-of-pocket costs for prescription drugs, set to take effect in 2025, could save nearly 390,000 seniors in Arizona $380 per year.

Bringing US up to speed with prescription price negotiations

The US has long been an outlier among other wealthy countries when it comes to prescription drug costs. The Commonwealth Fund, an independent health care research agency, explained in a pre-IRA analysis that unlike the US, “many other countries employ centralized price negotiations, national formularies, and comparative and cost-effectiveness research for determining price ceilings” to ensure lower drug costs.

Seniors like Somo say the president’s adjustments to Medicare have finally leveled the playing field for older Americans.

“We’ve been trying for 20 years to get the ability for Medicare to negotiate the prices of prescription drugs,” Somo said. “It’s ridiculous that they have actually been blocked from doing that and being able to negotiate those prices for some of the most used prescription meds for seniors is tremendous.”

And seniors aren’t the only Arizonans who have seen savings under Biden’s policy changes. Under the IRA, subsidies to lower Affordable Care Act health insurance premiums for families—initially implemented under Biden’s 2021 American Rescue Plan—have been extended through 2025.

Arizona seniors are ‘not a burden’

Somo said that there’s still work to be done in protecting Social Security and Medicare for future generations, specifically voicing concerns about how a second Trump term might negate progress for such programs. Trump has expressed openness to cutting funding for Social Security and Medicare, along with slashing the Affordable Care Act.

Somo’s commitment to securing these programs on a long-term basis is at the heart of her work and drives her dedication to encouraging Arizona seniors to educate themselves on candidates’ stances before casting their votes.

“Just because we are getting the Social Security, that doesn’t mean we don’t care about upcoming generations. I have sons. I have grandkids. I now have great-grandkids,” she explained. “I want this same type of security to be there for them and I don’t want them to have to work harder for it or longer for it.”

When it comes to discussing health care and prescription drug policy with Arizona voters, Somo said seniors are often easier to reach because they see the benefits of Medicare, Social Security, and affordable medication costs firsthand. The challenge, she explained, is in connecting with Arizonans who might not yet be affected by these policies—or who have embraced cynical attitudes about the future of Social Security and Medicare.

“It’s talking to the younger generations to convince them, ‘Yes, this can be there for you,” Somo said. “Don’t believe all the BS out there that’s telling you, ‘Oh, it’s going to go broke. You’ll never have it, but here you’re paying in.’ No, it’ll be there for you, but we have to protect it.”

Above all, Somo’s progressive policy work is rooted in a sense of continued purpose and a deep belief that seniors in Arizona and beyond should acknowledge their critical role in society—in and out of the voting booth.

“I’m a contributing member of my society because I still purchase things. I still go out to eat. We go to movies occasionally. I pay taxes. I’m a contributing member of society. I’m not a burden on it,” she said. “For our age group, when I look at what the Republicans are offering for seniors, there’s nothing there. It’s all, ‘Let’s cut, cut, cut. We’ll cut Social Security. We’ll cut Medicare. The old codgers are draining society too much.’ No, we’re not. We’re contributing to it.”

Author

  • Sophie Boudreau

    Sophie Boudreau is a writer and editor with nearly a decade of experience covering lifestyle, culture, and political topics. She previously served as senior editor at eHow and produced Michigan and Detroit content for Only In Your State.

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