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Priya Helweg,U.S. Department of Health and Human Services
Published: 09 February 2024

My name is Priya Helweg, and I am the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services deputy regional director for Alaska, Idaho, Oregon, Washington and 272 federally recognized tribes. February is American Heart Month, a time to recognize that heart disease is the leading cause of death in the United States, especially in the African American community. African Americans are 30% more likely to die from heart disease than non-Hispanic whites. However, African Americans can successfully prevent and beat these diseases by understanding the risks and taking steps to address them. Being physically active, eating healthy, not smoking and finding healthy ways to deal with stress are all ways we can improve our heart health now and in the future. For me, that means hiking in the mountains or walking my dogs around Green Lake in Seattle.

As the deputy regional director for HHS, I know many Oregonians rely on life-saving medicines to keep their hearts healthy and improve their quality of life. For patients with cardiovascular disease, prescription drugs can be expensive. Many patients with heart disease may also have other chronic conditions that come with high costs, such as diabetes.

As HHS Secretary Xavier Becerra often says, medication is only effective if you can afford it.

Under a new law, the Inflation Reduction Act, the Medicare program, can, for the first time, negotiate a fair price for certain prescription drugs taken by millions of beneficiaries. This year the secretary selected the first 10 high-cost medicines for negotiation, including 5 that treat cardiovascular disease or prevent complications that impact the heart. Drugs selected for negotiation include Xarelto and Eliquis, drugs taken to prevent blood clots that can lead to a heart attack or stroke, which together are taken by more than 60,000 Oregonians with Medicare.

Oregonians don’t have to wait for the drug price negotiations to see lower costs, they can get relief right now thanks to additional benefits in the law that lower prescription drug costs for Medicare Part D beneficiaries, including a policy that caps out-of-pocket prescription drug costs for Medicare Part D beneficiaries. Learn about these new benefits at lowerdrugcosts.gov.

So, if you can, make time for that hike, play with your dog a little longer, or eat those extra vegetables. And for those of you who pair those healthy habits with medication, learn how the Inflation Reduction Act makes prescription drugs less expensive and more accessible. During American Heart Month, add an extra step towards a healthy heart.

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