WASHINGTON — As Democrats rush to finalize a sweeping social spending package, President Biden tried to sell the bill on Monday by focusing on a specific benefit: lowering the cost of insulin for people with diabetes.
“I think it’s safe to say that all of us, all of us, regardless of our background, our age, where we live, we can agree that prescription drugs are outrageously expensive in this country,” Mr Biden said. after he was introduced by a woman who said she went into a coma after rationing her insulin.
The president said one of the most “outrageous examples” of high prescription drug prices is how much diabetes patients have to pay for the medication they need.
“We should be ashamed of ourselves,” said Mr. Biden. “We can do better as a nation.”
It was the president’s latest attempt to promote the package, which is mired in a Congressional stalemate. Biden previously tried to gain support for the social policy bill by highlighting how it would create jobs, tax the rich and tackle the global threat of climate change. On Monday, he discussed ways the package would tackle the cost of prescription drugs, an issue the government says will appeal to many voters.
But major disagreements over the package have yet to be resolved, even as Majority Leader New York Senator Chuck Schumer urged his colleagues on Monday that the package be approved by the Senate before Christmas. West Virginia Democrat Senator Joe Manchin III has sought to reduce benefits in the package, including the paid family leave program, a methane allowance on emissions, a plan to tax billionaires and an extension of Medicare to cover hearing aids. Mr Manchin expressed his support for the proposal to reduce the cost of prescription drugs.
Mr Biden dodged a question on Monday whether he was sure the package would be ready before Christmas.
“As soon as we can get it,” Mr Biden said. “We want to get it done, however long it takes.”
The Social Spending Act passed by the House would for the first time allow Medicare to directly regulate the price of drugs prescribed to beneficiaries. Under the law, Medicare would be allowed to lower the price of 20 drugs per year if they have been on the market for several years. It would also change Medicare’s drug benefit to limit how much seniors can be asked to pay for their medications. It would establish a spending cap of $2,000 per year, a provision that would reduce costs for the 2.5 million Medicare beneficiaries who are currently paying more.
The bill would also make changes to drug prices for patients outside of Medicare, limiting the amount drug manufacturers can raise their prices each year and limiting co-payments for insulin to $35 a month. The package, which has been extensively negotiated, is aimed at fewer drugs than many House Democrats had hoped.
Prescription drugs cost significantly more in the United States than in other developed countries, a point Mr Biden reiterated in his speech. According to recent estimates from the Rand Corporation, US drug prices are more than 250 percent of the prices paid by other countries in the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development.
The White House sees the reduction in prescription drugs as a measure that could build support among a diverse group of voters for a legislative package that also combats climate change and invests in the social safety net. After Democrats lost the Virginia governor’s race last month, a White House official said the administration planned to focus on progress made in negotiations to allow Medicare to vote in suburban suburbs. who may have supported Glenn Youngkin, the Republican who won the race.
But the parts of the drug plan highlighted at the event — insulin cost-sharing limits and a ban on high price hikes — both face challenges. Republicans in the Senate argue that the provisions violate the fiscal rules Democrats must follow to pass their legislation with a simple majority. The survival of those provisions depends on the ruling of the Senate MP, who is expected to consider the issue in the coming weeks.