U.S. Senator Ben Cardin

Letters From Ben

March 11, 2023

Justin Bieber

Dear Fellow Marylanders,

I’ve been writing these letters to you nearly every week since March 2020. In all this time, I’ve never had the Washington Post steal my subject line, but they came pretty close this week with their article, “Justin Bieber and Dianne Feinstein got shingles.

Unlike the Post, I’m not going to go in-depth about what causes this painful disease, but with 1 in 3 people in the U.S. developing it, I’m here to tell you that it is now easier for older Americans with Medicare to get a vaccine to help avoid it or lessen the symptoms. Understanding that Justin Bieber is only 29, you should know that the risk of developing shingles only increases as we get older, which makes getting the vaccine that much more important.

Last year, Democrats in Congress approved and President Joe Biden signed into law the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA). Thanks to this law, the more than 1 million Marylanders covered by Medicare – and others nationwide – are now eligible for zero-cost vaccinations under Medicare Part D for all vaccines recommended by the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP). This means there are no more co-payments—or deductibles to meet—for any vaccinations recommended by ACIP. For adults 50 and older, this includes influenza, shingles, Tdap (tetanus, diphtheria, and pertussis, also known as whooping cough), and COVID-19 vaccines. It adds the pneumococcal vaccine for people 65 and up.

Previously, it got a little complicated, and possibly expensive, as vaccines under Medicare Part B were cost-free but Part D vaccines were not. Now they are all treated the same. 

Also starting on January 1, the IRA capped insulin prices for Medicare beneficiaries at $35 per month. Insulin is not a choice but a necessity for so many Marylanders and seniors will now have peace of mind and predictability of the cost. Feeling the pressure, major drugmaker Eli Lilly followed up that it would cap monthly insulin costs for all patients at $35 per month.

At least 10 percent of Marylanders are living with diabetes or pre-diabetes. Some estimates are as high as 34 percent.

Perhaps you heard something in the news about the insulin cap, but the no-cost vaccines have not yet received as much attention. It’s why I recently hosted a meeting with the Park West Health System, along with other health care providers, the Baltimore City Health Department, health care advocates, faith leaders and others who have been actively engaged in the health and well-being of our seniors. 

Park West Health System, which is celebrating 50 years in our community, is a Federally Qualified Health Center (FQHC). These are federally funded nonprofit health centers or clinics that serve medically underserved areas and populations. I was proud play a part in boosting federal funding for our FQHCs in the landmark Affordable Care Act, as they are the backbone to providing quality health care for hundreds of thousands of Marylanders.

We in Congress, and the president, recently have accomplished so much to help lower out-of-pocket costs for individuals and families, particularly our seniors, but we need to do a better job getting the word out. This was the primary point of my visit to the Park West Belvedere Avenue health center. How can we reach seniors and others who could use these new benefits?

To that end, I appreciated the willingness of the Baltimore City Health Department to step up and announce that it would increase notifications and add information on the cost-free shingles vaccines to what it provides to our local seniors.

For the faith leaders, who shared their stories about working with vulnerable residents in the streets and wherever they live, I laud their dedication and understand their frustration in finding the resources to match their programs.

For them and the health care providers who are working on the frontlines across our state, I am committed to doing everything possible to ensure appropriate (and additional) resources get where they can do the most good for our communities.

I am proud of the ongoing work to make health care more affordable for Maryland families and seniors. I am committed to continuing to lower the cost of prescription drugs and expand access to quality, affordable health care. If you are eligible, I urge you to take advantage of these new benefits, and encourage your friends and family members to learn more, too.

Thank you for your time. Please feel free to reply to this email with your questions and comments on this topic and any other. Stay well.


Ben Cardin