President Biden is leaning into lowering health care costs and picking fights with the drug industry to show what he could bring to a second term and contrast with likely GOP nominee former President Trump.
Biden is embracing aggressive policies to tackle high drug prices and campaigning as someone willing to take on the pharmaceutical industry.
Health care has consistently been a winning issue for Democrats in recent elections, and the president’s reelection campaign wants to highlight both present and future ways he is lowering costs for Americans.
The administration last week announced it had the authority to “march in” and break the patents of drugs developed using taxpayer money if the administration considers them to be too expensive.
In a short video posted on X, formerly known as Twitter, Biden said the move was a “very important step towards ending price gouging, so you don’t have to pay more for medicine than you need.”
Progressives have long called for the administration to exercise its so-called “march-in rights” on high-priced drugs, but the White House has been hesitant to even recognize it as a possibility.
As a candidate in 2020, Biden was also reluctant to embrace the strategy, in contrast to challengers including Sens. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.).
Most recently, the administration declined a petition to force Pfizer and Astellas to lower the price of their cancer drug Xtandi, which costs between $160,000 and $180,000 per patient a year.
But in a sign of the role health costs could play in the 2024 election, even moderate Democratic lawmakers like Rep. Richard Neal (D-Mass.) praised the move as “cracking down on price gouging.”
The new announcement did not endorse widespread use of the authority, and officials emphasized there was not a specific drug they were immediately targeting.
Still, the move served as a warning to the drug industry, which is now gearing up for a new fight with the White House.
“If the price of collaborating with the government is that your patents are going to being seized or the price of the drug’s going to be set, there’s going to be a lot less collaboration,” Stephen Ubl, CEO of the trade group PhRMA, said during an event hosted by The Hill.
“The Administration is sending us back to a time when government research sat on a shelf, not benefitting anyone,” the group added in a post on X.
In response, the Biden campaign said simply: “Oh no. We’ve upset Big Pharma again.”
This latest jab at the pharmaceutical industry follows one of the administration’s signature health care achievements: giving Medicare the ability to negotiate some drug prices.
Final decisions about the prices are expected to be announced in September — just ahead of the election — though they won’t take effect until 2026. Industry and industry-aligned groups have filed close to a dozen lawsuits to stop or delay it.
The lawsuits are a point of pride for administration allies, and they serve to bolster Biden’s populist message.
“Even as big drug companies throw all of their resources at lawsuits and lobbying to keep their profits high, President Biden has not wavered in his commitment to fight for working families and make prescription drugs more affordable,” said Leslie Dach, chair of the Democratic-aligned group Protect Our Care.
The latest drug pricing announcement comes as the campaign seeks a winning economic message that breaks through with voters. The administration is focusing on pocketbook issues aimed at helping families keep expenses in check and tying health policies to Biden’s economic successes.
Health care affordability could give the president a boost among both younger voters and those over age 65.
It could also give the White House a tangible counterpoint to concerns about inflation.
While polls show more Democrats than Republicans say they care about health costs, the issue ranks high across the political spectrum.
A November tracking poll from health policy research group KFF released earlier this month found 8 in 10 voters said health care affordability was “very important” for candidates to discuss on the campaign trail, second only to inflation.
The issue was prominent among voters 18 to 29 and among voters age 65 and older, who were specifically concerned about the future of Medicare and Social Security.
Biden’s campaign has been touting some of the president’s signature achievements to make drug prices affordable and bring down health costs, like capping insulin costs in Medicare and allowing Medicare to negotiate drug prices — all while drawing a major contrast to Trump.
“Donald Trump was too weak to take on Big Pharma and lower prescription drug prices for seniors as president — but Joe Biden got it done. As a result, millions are seeing lower prices on the lifesaving medications they rely on,” Biden-Harris 2024 spokesperson Seth Schuster said in a statement to The Hill.
Trump talked tough on going after drug costs during his presidency, but none of his major policies were implemented.
“If Trump has his way in a second term, prices will skyrocket and Americans who are currently benefiting from $35 insulin may have to choose between paying rent and affording their essential medication,” Schuster added.
Part of the challenge for the campaign is making sure their message is breaking through and that people realize what the administration has already accomplished.
The same KFF poll showed few adults in the U.S. are aware that the Inflation Reduction Act is meant to bring down the cost of prescription drugs for people on Medicare — despite Biden signing the law more than a year ago.
Only 32 percent of adults said they were aware that there’s a law that requires the federal government to negotiate the price of some drugs for Medicare enrollees, though it was 25 percent in July.
While more adults aged 65 and older said they were aware of a law capping the cost of insulin for people with Medicare, only about a quarter of people overall said they were aware of it.
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