Touting Reconciliation Bill, Biden Talks Up Prescription Drug Cost Savings
WASHINGTON — President Joe Biden reminded the public on Monday that the big social policy and climate spending bill currently in the Senate would deliver significant savings on prescription drugs for all Americans.
The pitch came as Americans and Congress appear to be moving on from the months-long debate on the $2 trillion legislation, and are now more concerned with the looming debt ceiling crisis, the omicron variant of COVID-19 and the impending holiday season.
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., has said he hopes to pass the reconciliation bill before Christmas but any amendments to it will then have to be reconciled with the version the House passed last month by a 220-213 vote.
In the meantime, House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, D-Md., told reporters during a pen and pad session Monday that the House agenda is pretty packed with must-do agenda items including passing the National Defense Authorization Act and a debt limit extension, both of which he said he hopes to get done by the end of the week.
In addition, Hoyer said, the House intends to pass the Protecting Our Democracy Act in the next several days.
Sponsored by Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Calif., the Act “deals with the vulnerabilities exploited by former President Trump and his administration to weaken our democracy, undermine the rule of law and subvert our government’s system of checks and balances,” Hoyer said.
Further complicating the timing of when votes will be held is the honoring of former Sen. Bob Dole, who died in Washington on Sunday morning and who will lie in state at the Capitol on Thursday.
With all these weighing on the focus of Capitol Hill, the president took to the East Room of the White House on Monday to try to shift the focus back to the biggest pocketbook issue addressed in the big spending bill – prescription drug costs.
Biden began his remarks by acknowledging “the groundbreaking and life saving work of many pharmaceutical companies.”
“Look no further than the vaccines and treatments they’ve manufactured and delivered … miraculous therapies that in some cases have turned diseases that were once considered death sentences into treatable conditions,” the president said.
“But we can make a distinction between developing these treatments and jacking up prices on a range of medicines … it’s safe to say that all of us can agree that prescription drugs are outrageously expensive in this country,” Biden said.
“I’m committed to using every tool I have to lower prescription drug costs for Americans consistent with the drug companies getting a fair return on their investment,” he said.
Even if the way prescription drug provisions of the bill pass largely unchanged – a big if until the Senate finishes its version of the legislation – the big change, a mechanism allowing Medicare to negotiate prices for 10 common prescription drugs and insulin, won’t result in real savings until 2025.
The number of drugs subject to negotiations would build with time, reaching 100 in six years and continuing to grow by 20 a year.
Other provisions would take effect earlier.
— Copays for insulin would be limited to $35 a month, starting in 2023. Biden called the high cost of insulin “one of the most egregious examples” of overpriced medicines. He was introduced at the White House by a young woman, Iesha Meza, who couldn’t afford insulin for her Type 1 diabetes and was hospitalized in a coma.
— Drugmakers would be required to pay rebates to Medicare if they raise prices faster than inflation, starting that same year. The provision would benefit people with private insurance as well.
— Medicare recipients with high drug costs would finally get a cap on their annual financial exposure, $2,000 starting in 2024.
— Shingles vaccines and other shots covered under Medicare’s “Part D” pharmacy benefit would be cost-free to consumers, starting in 2024.
In a statement following Biden’s speech, Stephen J. Ubl, head of the industry lobby Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America, called the legislation “a damaging bill jammed through a partisan process will not provide patients struggling to afford their medicines meaningful relief.”
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