Biden continues his pledge for Medicare drug price negotiations in State of the Union speech
President Joe Biden is not backing down on advocating for Medicare to negotiate drug prices. In his first State of the Union on Tuesday evening, which in addition took Russia to task over its invasion of Ukraine, Biden revealed that cutting pharmaceutical prices is chief among the priorities of his domestic agenda.
Biden and congressional Democrats crafted wide-ranging drug pricing provisions, including allowing Medicare to negotiate for the first time, in the Build Back Better Act. But that bill and its parts now appear dead, largely thanks to Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV), who balked at some of the non-drug-related provisions.
Still, Biden came out swinging for drug price negotiations Tuesday evening in the Capitol, pledging his support for capping the cost of insulin for those with insurance at $35 a month as part of a last-ditch effort to get something passed, adding, “Drug companies will still do very well. And while we’re at it let Medicare negotiate lower prices for prescription drugs, like the VA already does.”
Seventh grader Joshua Davis of Midlothian, VA, and his mother sat in First Lady Jill Biden’s box for the speech, and Biden, who was previously introduced by Joshua at a recent insulin-related event, explained his story.
“He and his Dad both have type 1 diabetes, which means they need insulin every day. Insulin costs about $10 a vial to make. But drug companies charge families like Joshua and his dad up to 30 times more. I spoke with Joshua’s mom. Imagine what it’s like to look at your child who needs insulin and have no idea how you’re going to pay for it,” Biden said.
Insulin prices have been in the crosshairs of Congress for years now, with House E&C committee chair Frank Pallone (D-NJ) and subcommittee chair Diana DeGette (D-CO) most recently explaining in letters to the largest three insulin manufacturers that the price in the US is more than 10 times that of 33 other countries.
Sanofi’s own pricing report this year, released Wednesday, explains how even patients’ out-of-pocket spending on its insulin Lantus rose 82% between 2012 and 2020.
But Sanofi and the other insulin manufacturers often point to the fact that the rise in insulin prices and out-of-pocket costs is due to the pharma middlemen, the PBMs, which create this ever-widening gap between the list and net prices.
PhRMA CEO Stephen Ubl released a rare statement following the SOTU last night, continuing the industry group’s argument against allowing Medicare to negotiate on drug prices, saying:
We urge President Biden and Congress to work on a holistic solution that fixes what’s broken in our health care system. Allowing the government to set the price of medicines isn’t the answer. We know that story will end with less access to medicines and less future innovation, and we know there’s a better way. Let’s work together on solutions that lower costs for patients, address abusive practices within the insurance system and protect the development of new cures and treatments.
In addition to the drug pricing provisions, Biden also announced a new initiative around Covid-19 therapeutics.
Known as the “Test to Treat” initiative, Biden said it will help people “get tested at a pharmacy, and if they’re positive, receive antiviral pills on the spot at no cost.”
In clarifying comments, the White House said the initiative is meant to “minimize the time between a positive test result and receiving an effective Covid-19 treatment, including antiviral pills and monoclonal antibodies … The Administration will be launching these one-stop shops this month, with hundreds of sites opening nationwide including at pharmacy clinics at places like CVS, Walgreens, and Kroger. The Administration will continue to grow the program over time.”
Biden also discussed getting closer to returning to “normal” after Covid, and said that starting next week, Americans can order another round of Covid self-tests, even if they’ve already ordered some.