Updated as of Sept. 2 at 10:51 a.m. to include video
DURHAM — Vice President Kamala Harris visited North Carolina to discuss the Biden-Harris Administration’s efforts to reduce health care costs and increase access.
After arriving at Raleigh-Durham International Airport Sept. 1., Harris’ first stop was the Durham Center for Senior Life. She toured the facility before delivering remarks to a crowd of more than 200 people about the Inflation Reduction Act. The new legislation will serve to lessen medical costs for senior citizens by lowering the cost of insulin, hearing aids and overall medical expenses.
Harris said 9% of the United States’ 50 million senior citizens live in poverty. Harris said North Carolina has one of the largest and fastest growing populations of seniors, which is why lowering medical costs is a priority for the administration.
“Access to affordable health care is about independence,” Harris said. “Independence from debt, independence from fear, independence from pain. And affordable healthcare and access to affordable health care is also about peace of mind. The peace of mind that comes from knowing you will never have to choose between your physical well-being and your financial well-being.”
Harris said she has met with seniors who have to ration their insulin or only take it every other day. She said this means that seniors are having to endure dizziness, nausea and blurry vision, which persuaded her and Biden to work to make insulin costs lower.
“A diabetic goes for too long without insulin, they fall into a coma or even die,” Harris said. “No one should have to worry and wonder about whether they will be able to afford the medication that keeps them alive. And that is why starting next year, our administration will cap the cost of insulin prescriptions for people on Medicare to $35 a month.”
While seniors are living in poverty, Harris said pharmaceutical companies are making billions of dollars in profit by selling medications for 10 times or 100 times the manufacturing cost.
Harris said this is immoral for companies to do, especially as some seniors are on dozens of medications. This is why Harris said the Biden administration, beginning in 2025, will cap out-of-pocket prescription drug costs for seniors on Medicare to $2,000 a year.
“Access to health care should be a right, not a privilege for those who can afford it,” Harris said. “We’re talking about an essential need right now, we’re not talking about luxury.”
Harris was joined by Gov. Roy Cooper and North Carolina Congressman David Price, who spoke about their experience working with her to help provide seniors with affordable healthcare. This was Harris’ fifth time speaking in North Carolina since elected, and both elected officials said her leadership has helped the state make strides and urged seniors to continue to vote Democratic.
Seanyea Rains Louis, executive director of Durham Center for Senior Life, said she has wanted to work in her role since her early 30s because of the opportunities the center provides for senior citizens. Rains Louis said the vice president’s visit is significant to residents for multiple reasons.
“This is a lifetime opportunity,” Rains Louis said. “Many of our seniors have not had an opportunity to meet anyone at that level who is brown and looks like many of them. Because most of our population are other brown populations.”
Gladys Walker came to hear Harris speak because, as a Black woman and fellow member of Alpha Kappa Alpha, having representation in politics meant a lot to her.
“We're the oldest African American sorority in the country,” Walker said. “And so it is fitting that the first woman of color to become vice president of the United States is also a member of the first African American sorority. So that means a great deal to me. She's representing us, not only as a woman of color.”
Durham resident Alexis Green said when she first heard Harris would be speaking, she thought she would have to pay. When she drove by today, she and a friend wanted to see what was going on inside. Green, a single mom, said she was interested in comments from Harris on insurance and inflation.
“Things are really expensive right now, and it’s just really hard,” Green said. “Because everything is expensive, it makes it hard to be able to put my child in sports, all of that stuff … so I'm just excited to see what type of plans that she has to kind of bring those things back down to where we are able to live comfortably again.”
Avanthi Jayaweera, a family physician in Prospect Hill, came to hear Harris speak to represent her patients who cannot afford their medical treatment. Jayaweera works at a federally qualified health center and said this means many of her patients are uninsured or underinsured.
“This legislation is a huge step forward to allowing our patients to afford their medication,” Jayaweera said. “But more importantly, I'd love to see that expand so that patients don't have to spend thousands of dollars for insulin. I'm hoping that at one point, no one will have to pay more than $35.”
Amanda Pillig and Chloe Franklin contributed to the reporting of this story.