COVENTRY — U.S. Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse paid a visit to the Coventry Resource and Senior Center Tuesday to chat with the seniors there and to share with them information on the savings they may start seeing as a result of recent legislation.
Whitehouse stops by senior centers around Rhode Island fairly frequently, he said. His biggest goal during those visits, he added, is usually to hear what seniors have to say so that he can bring their concerns with him back to Washington, D.C.
“A lot turns up when you come around,” the senator said, shortly after mingling with a group of seniors as they sat around a table playing High Low Jack.
During this week’s Coventry visit, however, his intent was also to spread news about some of the provisions within the Inflation Reduction Act, a sweeping bill that among other things addresses energy, taxes and health care.
Signed into law by President Joe Biden in August, the federal legislation makes a number of changes that Whitehouse said will positively impact seniors across the country.
“We really, finally, at last did make some progress on Medicare costs,” he told those present for his visit Tuesday. “I’m very, very happy about that.”
A plan to allow Medicare to negotiate drug prices with pharmaceutical manufacturers has begun to take shape, for example.
“They’re going to pick the most expensive and most used 10 or 12 drugs and start with those, and then we’ll see how it goes,” Whitehouse said, “but it should make a big difference.”
Also among the reforms embedded in the act is a $35-per-month cap on out-of-pocket insulin costs for Medicare members.
“That’s immediate savings,” Whitehouse said of the cap, which took effect Jan. 1.
A $2,000 cap on how much a Medicare recipient — which generally includes those 65 or older, as well as those with disabilities — can be asked to spend out of pocket on prescription drug costs has been implemented, as well. According to Whitehouse, 4,000 Rhode Island seniors every year end up spending more than that by an average of $1,300.
“So it’s a big savings for 4,000 Rhode Islanders because that cap is now in place,” he said.
Whitehouse also spoke about this year’s 8.7 percent Social Security cost-of-living adjustment increase, the highest in decades.
“And I’m still working on trying to improve the COLA formula,” he said, “so it’s more often like this year, and less often like the years in which every dollar you get with COLA goes right back out the door to Medicare.”
While Whitehouse’s visit Tuesday gave local seniors the chance to speak with him about how the Inflation Reduction Act might affect them, it also marked the first time that a U.S. senator had been to the town’s new resource and senior center since it opened in 2019.
“We’re happy that he’s here,” said Bob Robillard, Coventry’s director of human services. “He’s got a pretty full schedule, and I’m glad he made some time for our seniors so they can ask him questions that I can’t answer myself.”
Robillard, who also serves as president of the Rhode Island Senior Center Directors Association, called the senator “a strong advocate for seniors.”
“He’s a strong advocate for making sure that seniors get what they need,” he said.
With the nation's percentage of 65-and-older adults expected to rise over the coming years, Robillard added, that kind of advocacy is particularly important.
By 2030, the United States for the first time will have more senior citizens than children, according to projections by the Census Bureau. In Coventry, Robillard said, senior citizens account for around 14 percent of residents.
“We’ve had a great deal of meetings online around senior issues,” he said of Whitehouse, “and he and his staff really have a laser focus on what the needs of our seniors are.”
For those having trouble with anything — from Medicare, to Social Security, to veterans services — Whitehouse’s constituent services staff is available to help, and can be reached at 401-453-5294.
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