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‘It’s about your security’: Biden talks drug costs during UNLV stop

Updated March 15, 2023 - 7:00 pm

President Joe Biden on Wednesday urged lawmakers to work together to lower prescription drug costs for Americans.

“It’s not just your health,” Biden said in the lobby of UNLV’s William F. Harrah College of Hospitality. “It’s about your dignity. It’s about your security. That’s why my administration is focused intensely, intensely in getting more people affordable health care.”

Biden spoke about how his 2024 budget will help complete the job that his Inflation Reduction Act couldn’t: lowering health care costs for all Americans, rather than just those who use Medicare.

Biden’s $6.8 trillion budget released last week proposes expanding the requirement for drug manufacturers to pay rebates if they raise drug prices faster than the rate of inflation. The Inflation Reduction Act instituted that requirement for drugs on the Medicare market.

His budget also proposes capping the price of insulin at $35 per month for everyone and expanding Medicare’s negotiation authority to increase the number of drugs that are selected sooner after they launch, according to the White House.

Republicans in Congress have been opposed to the proposal, which would cut budget deficits by about $3 trillion over 10 years by raising taxes on those earning more than $400,000 a year and increase spending from $6.2 trillion to $6.8 trillion. GOP lawmakers urged the president to rein in federal spending and called Biden’s plan “reckless.” With Republicans in control of the House of Representatives, it is unlikely many parts of the president’s plan will be enacted.

‘Basic fairness’

At the event Wednesday, Biden said there is nothing “radical” about his proposal and instead it is about “basic fairness and decency.” He criticized the “MAGA Republicans’” plans for health care, such as their attempts to remove the Affordable Care Act and to roll back the Inflation Reduction Act.

“Let’s finish the job,” Biden said. “Let’s expand health care for more people. Let’s keep building the economy from the middle out and the bottom up, not from the top down.”

A House GOP adviser sent a plan to the GOP members of Congress that consists of $2 trillion in cuts to Medicaid, $600 billion in cuts to the Affordable Care Act, and $400 billion in cuts to food stamps.

While framing Republicans as a danger to Medicaid and Obamacare, Biden has mostly retained a Trump-era program that opponents — mainly progressive Democrats — say takes steps to privatize Medicare, the country’s public health insurance program for elderly Americans.

The pilot program, known as direct contracting, aimed to introduce value-based payment arrangements for traditional Medicare. Opponents argue the program allows doctors and private health insurers to switch patients from Medicare to privately run insurance.

The Biden administration has also drawn criticism for changes to Medicare Advantage after the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services proposed changes that could lead to higher out-of-pocket expenses and reduced benefits for 30 million Americans, including nearly 250,000 seniors in Nevada, according to a study published in February.

As of January 2023, 248,357 Nevadans were enrolled in a Medicare Advantage plan. In the U.S. 30 million seniors use Medicare Advantage. More than 52 percent of all Medicare Advantage beneficiaries live on an annual income of less than $25,000, according to Better Medicare Alliance.

In January, Nevada’s Democratic U.S. Sens. Catherine Cortez Masto and Jacky Rosen sent a letter to the Biden administration urging it to continue supporting the Medicare Advantage program, and many Nevada-based groups have spoken in support of the program following the news of the proposed changes.

“These proposed cuts would backtrack the program’s stability and harm the traditionally underserved and vulnerable communities that rely on the program to access affordable and high-quality care,” said Diego Trujillo, CEO of Las Vegas Health Education Advocacy Leadership of Southern Nevada in a statement.

A Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services spokesperson said in an email to the Review-Journal that it does not expect changes to the Medicare Advantage market and is “confident people with Medicare will continue to have access to a broad array of choices of Medicare Advantage plans that have low or no premiums and generous coverage of extra benefits.”

Crying wolf?

After Biden spoke, Rep. Dina Titus, D-Nev., said in an interview with the Review-Journal she does not think there will be increasing costs for people with Medicare Advantage.

“Medicare Advantage, they often cry wolf but it usually evens out,” Titus said. “I think they are against supplemental, but if you can bring down Medicare costs with negotiations, that also has the private companies bringing down costs. So I don’t see that as a serious problem.”

Through the Inflation Reduction Act, the price of insulin was capped at $35 for people with Medicare, but Biden called on Congress on Wednesday to cap the price for all Americans who use the medication.

He has also called on insulin manufacturers to lower their prices. On March 15, Novo Nordisk, one of the largest sellers of insulin, said it would cut the price of its insulin by 75 percent. Eli Lilly on March 1 announced it would lower its list price of insulin by 70 percent and cap insulin co-pays at $35 for those with commercial health insurance and uninsured patients.

“Now instead of paying whatever the drug company wants to charge you, Medicare, Medicare will be able to negotiate prices,” Biden said.

Pharmaceutical companies have argued against the president’s plan to lower drug prices, saying it will result in fewer innovative drugs being developed, as the often-expensive process of research and trials would become even more expensive if drug prices are capped.

At the event, Biden asked how many people in the room had a family member diagnosed with cancer, and many raised their hands. He talked about his son who died of cancer, as well as his wife and daughter who were killed in a trucking accident, and the psychological toll of those tragedies.

“Some people are paying $10,000, 12,(000), $14,000 a year for expensive treatments like cancer,” Biden said. Due to the Inflation Reduction Act, people on Medicare will never have to pay more than $2,000 a year, he said. “It’s going to save seniors money. It’s also going to save the government money.”

Biden ended his speech with a call to action to make health care more affordable, asking for cooperation.

“We are the United States of America,” Biden said. “There is nothing beyond our capacity if we work together, so let’s work together.”

Contact Jessica Hill at jehill@reviewjournal.com. Follow @jess_hillyeah on Twitter.

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