Biden points to drug prices in call for Senate social spending vote
President Biden on Monday touted the Build Back Better Act’s provisions to lower prescription drug prices in his latest call on the Senate to act on the House-passed legislation.
Biden called prescription drugs “outrageously expensive in this country,” saying, “It doesn’t need to be that way.”
“To really solve this problem, we need the Senate to follow the House of Representatives’ lead and pass my Build Back Better bill,” he said.
Lowering drug prices is one of the most popular parts of Biden’s sweeping climate and social spending measure, and Democrats are looking to tout the changes and hammer Republicans for opposing them. A Kaiser Family Foundation poll found that 83 percent of the public supports allowing the government to lower drug prices.
Biden met on Monday with patients with diabetes who had to ration their insulin because they could not afford it and noted that his legislation would impose a $35 per month cap on what patients have to pay for insulin, one of its most concrete changes.
The measure would also cap what seniors on Medicare pay out of pocket for drugs at $2,000 per year and limit price increases to the rate of inflation.
Medicare would be able to negotiate lower prices on some drugs for the first time, though that provision was scaled back significantly to win over moderate Democrats including, Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (Ariz.) and Rep. Scott Peters (Calif.), who expressed worries about harming innovation from drug companies.
That negotiation provision will now apply only to older drugs that have been on the market for either nine or 13 years, depending on their type.
Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) is aiming to pass the overall package through the Senate by Christmas, but negotiations with centrists, particularly Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.), have put that timeline in danger.
Biden did acknowledge the innovation coming out of drug companies, particularly the development of COVID-19 vaccines, but said there is a distinction between that genuine breakthrough and “jacking up prices” on older medications.
“We acknowledge the groundbreaking, lifesaving work that many pharmaceutical companies are doing,” he said.
The Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America, which strongly opposes the provisions, hit back on Monday, saying that Build Back Better fails to address the role of “middlemen” known as pharmacy benefit managers, saying the package should do more to ensure that savings actually make their way to patients at the pharmacy counter.
Progressives are still pushing to make the legislation stronger, including by extending the $35 cap on insulin costs to people who are uninsured.