President Biden said Tuesday that a cap on insulin costs and other discounts for older adults would be imperiled under GOP control of Congress, leveraging a White House speech on health care to rebuke political rivals and win over voters who could decide the midterms.
With about six weeks until Election Day, Mr. Biden portrayed Democrats as guardians of health coverage, pointing to Republican plans that would revisit entitlement spending or repeal his signature tax-and-climate bill, which for the first time allowed Medicare to negotiate down the prices of certain prescription drugs.
“I wish I could say Republicans supported this progress,” Mr. Biden said from the Rose Garden. “But they had a very different idea.”
Mr. Biden pointed to a plan by Sen. Rick Scott, Florida Republican, that said federal legislation should sunset in five years, a proposal that Democrats seized on as a plot to cut Medicare or Social Security. Some senior Republicans have distanced themselves from the proposals.
The president also pointed to comments from Sen. Ron Johnson, a Wisconsin Republican running for reelection, that suggested entitlement spending is on an unsustainable path and should be subject to discretionary review by Congress instead of mandatory spending.
Mr. Biden is grappling with low approval ratings due to soaring consumer costs and has struggled at times to get a positive message out to voters. Forecasters say Republicans are poised to retake the House, though Democrats could maintain narrow control of the Senate.
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Democrats are relying on the Supreme Court overturning the national right to abortion to whip up pro-choice voter enthusiasm. Mr. Biden said voters should fear what the GOP would do on other aspects of health care, including goodies in his signature climate-and-tax law, the Inflation Reduction Act.
After years of trying, Democrats secured the ability to negotiate down the price of some prescription drugs through Medicare, a controversial provision cheered by patient advocates and jeered by the drug industry.
Republicans and the pharmaceutical industry says the provision will fix prices — not allow for negotiation — and stifle innovation in the biomedical sector. Mr. Biden leaned into the criticism.
“For years, many of us have been trying to fix this problem, but for years, Big Pharma has stood in the way,” Mr. Biden said. “Not this year.”
Under the Democrats’ legislation, supersized subsidies for people who qualify for insurance through the Affordable Care Act will be extended through 2025 instead of expiring at the end of this year.
The bill also includes a $35 cap on monthly insulin costs for older adults on Medicare. For years, diabetics have complained to lawmakers about trade-offs they have to make to afford life-saving medicine.
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Democrats tried to extend the $35 cap to individuals on private insurance, but the Senate parliamentarian ruled it out of order in the budget-related bill that Mr. Biden’s allies used to pass the legislation without GOP votes.
Mr. Biden said rejecting the broader provision robbed diabetes sufferers of their “dignity.”
“We’re going to lower the cost of life-saving insulin for children as well as families, for everybody, whether they’re on Medicare or not,” Mr. Biden said to applause from the friendly crowd.
Bob Parant, a Medicare beneficiary from Long Island, New York, who has had Type 1 diabetes for 50 years, hailed the insulin cap as he introduced Mr. Biden in the Rose Garden.
“The insulin cost is inhumane,” he said.
Mr. Biden touted health provisions as he faces political headwinds on other matters. His party, which controls Congress, is racing to avert a government shutdown before the midterms and budget scorekeepers said his student loan forgiveness push will cost $400 billion, fueling controversy around the plan. Inflation is increasing the cost of food and other items and there are signs that a drop in gas prices is flatlining.
The president said he remains optimistic about the future of the country, however, and said his administration is working to reduce deficits overall.
He announced that premiums under Medicare Part B, which covers doctor-administered drugs and outpatient services, will decrease by about $60 for the 2023 plan year, the first reduction in over a decade.
Mr. Biden also took a victory lap for provisions that will provide vaccines, including ones for shingles, to older adults for free starting in January and his move to implement a bipartisan plan to sell hearing aids over the counter.
“We’re actually making progress,” he said, “helping folks get a little more breathing room.”