- The Washington Times - Thursday, February 10, 2022

President Biden leaned on Democratic senators Thursday to extend supersized Obamacare subsidies and give struggling American families “breathing room” on prescription costs through Medicare negotiation.

He made the appeal as he toured the U.S. in a desperate bid to grease the path for a legislative agenda that derailed on Capitol Hill.

“We pay the highest prescription drug prices of any developed nations in the world. The highest of any,” Mr. Biden said at Germanna Community College in Culpeper, Virginia, about 70 miles outside Washington. “Medicare can negotiate everything except drug prices.”



He cited a leukemia drug that costs $14,000 per month in the U.S. but $6,000 in France. The mismatch is replicated with other drugs, forcing Americans to make difficult economic decisions or ration medicine, according to the president.

“That’s just wrong. It’s simply wrong,” Mr. Biden said.

Many Americans consider drug prices to be way too high, so members of both parties have floated ideas to bring down prices. However, Congress has struggled to find a solution.

Mr. Biden wants the federal government to be allowed to negotiate prices for a set number of prescription drugs and require drug companies to pay rebates if they increase costs faster than inflation. He also wants to cap out-of-pocket drug costs for seniors on Medicare at $2,000 per year and insulin at $35 per month.

“We can do that with the stroke of a pen,” Mr. Biden said.

Mr. Biden faces a problem, though. The provisions he championed are in a $1.75 trillion social welfare and climate bill that passed the House but died in the evenly divided Senate because of opposition from centrist Democratic Sens. Joe Manchin III of West Virginia and Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona.

The bill would also extend supersized Obamacare subsidies that made private insurance on the program more affordable.

A record 14.5 million people selected a health plan through Obamacare for 2022, including 300,000 Virginians who saw their premiums drop an average of 26% due to the bigger subsidies, which were included in the coronavirus-relief bill Democrats muscled to passage in early 2021.

“That’s more money staying in your pocket,” Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra told the Culpeper audience.

The bigger subsidies expire at the end of the year, so Mr. Biden is scrambling to extend them through 2025 in the massive spending bill known as the Build Back Better Act, which Democrats are now considering trying to pass in pieces.

It is unclear if the health provisions can get through the Senate or if they would move before other priorities, including universal pre-kindergarten, a child tax credit for families and climate change provisions.

Some patient advocates want Democrats to prioritize drug pricing while they hold narrow majorities in Congress.

“These drug pricing reforms are not controversial for the people of America; they are the most popular element of BBB. Over 80% of Americans support them — Democrats, Republicans and independents alike,” said David Mitchell, a blood-cancer patient and founder of Patients For Affordable Drugs Now whose drugs have a list price of over $900,000 per year. “The provisions before the Senate will help restore balance to ensure patients get the innovation they need at prices they can afford. All 50 Senate Democrats support the legislation; this is Congress’ chance to deliver on years of promises. This opportunity won’t come again soon.”

The pharmaceutical industry says the Democrats’ plan looks more like extortion than negotiation because it wields excise taxes against drugmakers who refuse to negotiate lower prices. They say the bill will result in fewer drugs entering the market and there are other fixes available, such as capping out-of-pocket costs in Medicare Part D and making sure any savings from negotiations are passed to consumers instead of middlemen.

The White House is unpersuaded by the industry’s arguments. It says provisions in Mr. Biden‘s big bill are exceedingly popular.

An October poll from the Kaiser Family Foundation found eight in 10 people favor letting the federal government negotiate prices for people on Medicare, including 52% who “strongly” favor it. Among Republicans, 44% strongly favor negotiation and 32% somewhat favor it compared to 23% who oppose the idea.

A Virginia mother, Shannon Davis, spoke Thursday about difficult it was to afford insulin for her son, Joshua, who has Type 1 diabetes.

“If insulin costs were capped at $35 per month,” she said, “this would be life-changing for our family not only for our family but for the millions of families impacted by diabetes.”

• Tom Howell Jr. can be reached at thowell@washingtontimes.com.

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