Speaking exactly six weeks from the midterm elections, President Joe Biden on Tuesday touted his efforts to lower health care prices for seniors, highlighting a decrease in the cost of seniors’ medical coverage for the first time in more than a decade.
Biden and congressional Democrats this year pushed for key health care measures in their sweeping climate and tax bill — including a $2,000 annual cap on seniors’ out-of-pocket drug costs.
"We pay more for prescription drugs than any other advanced nation in the world, and there's no good reason for it," Biden said at the White House. "For years, many of us have been trying to fix this problem. But for years, for years, Big Pharma has stood in the way."
"Not this year," the president added. "This year, the American people won, and Big Pharma lost."
Biden was introduced by Bob Parent, a Medicare beneficiary from Long Island who has Type 1 Diabetes. He called the Inflation Reduction Act’s cap on drug costs critical for his peace of mind.
"I'm so thankful for the insulin that was provided me in order to manage my disease as well as continue to live," Parent said. "However, the issue is that [the] insulin cost is inhumane."
"Even on Medicare, I have to pay $300 out of my own pocket every 90 days," he continued. "But thanks to President Biden and Democrats in Congress, the reforms in the Inflation Reduction Act will save me and millions of others hundreds, and in some cases thousands, of dollars a year. For me, that's sleep insurance, because I can go to bed at night knowing that my out-of-pocket costs for all that I have is going to be affordable and predictable."
Ahead of the midterms, the president has thrust the Inflation Reduction Act into the spotlight as evidence of Democrats’ endeavor to lower costs amid record-high inflation, drawing contrast with a proposed GOP plan to make Congress reauthorize federal programs like Medicare and Social Security every five years.
"For years, there's been no check on how high or fast Big Pharma can raise drug prices," Biden said. "Thanks to the Inflation Reduction Act, that ends now. Now, if Big Pharma tries to raise drug prices faster than inflation, they'll be penalized and they'll have to rebate the money to Medicare and from now on."
Biden on Tuesday touted the $35-per-month cap on out-of-pocket insulin costs for Medicare recipients included in the bill, while lamenting that Republicans stripped out a provision that would have extended that limit to those covered by private insurance.
"Imagine being the parent of a kid suffering from Type 1 diabetes, knowing you didn't have the money," Biden said. "Let's say you're paying $500, $600, $700 a month, you don't have it. How in God's name ... do you look at that child, knowing you can't afford it?"
"My dad would say it not only deprives that child of a healthy existence, but it deprives a parent of their dignity. Just imagine if we're able to provide this for everyone, everyone in America at $35 a shot," the president continued, pledging: "We're gonna go back at this and we're going to lower the cost of life-saving medicines for children as well as families, for everybody whether they're on Medicare or not."
The president on Tuesday announced that Medicare Part B premiums would decrease in 2023 by about $60 per person, instead of going up as they did in the last ten years.
The move, he said, would impact millions of seniors and Americans with disabilities.
"For years, that fee's gone up," Biden said. "Now for the first time in more than a decade it's going to go down, and millions of seniors and people with disabilities on Medicare that means more money in their pockets while still getting the care they need."
Biden also touted that Medicare Part D recipients will see lower costs for prescriptions and vaccinations.
The president sought to highlight the difference between his administration and Congressional Republicans who are hoping to retake the House and Senate in November's midterms. Biden slammed a plan from Florida Sen. Rick Scott, which he charged would put Medicare and Social Security "on the chopping block" every five years, as well as House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy's recently unveiled "Commitment to America" agenda.
"[McCarthy] said ... the first thing they're going to do is repeal the Inflation Reduction Act," Biden said, adding: "I have a different idea. I'll protect those programs. I'll make them stronger. And I'll lower your cost to be able to keep them."
Kyle Kondik, managing editor of Sabato’s Crystal Ball at the University of Virginia, said Biden’s attention to Medicare and Social Security was “bread and butter” for Democrats before an election.
“It's a pretty frequent and familiar attack line for them to go after Republicans on those sorts of issues,” he said. “And I think it's friendly ground for Democrats because, generally speaking, the public trust Democrats a little bit more on those sort of big social spending programs as compared to Republicans.”
But, he said, it’s unclear how much weight the focus on those programs will have, since Republicans aren’t in power and haven’t formally proposed any legislation related to Social Security.
On the other hand, the GOP could indeed get somewhere by criticizing Democrats.
“To the extent the Republicans do well in this election, it'll probably be more because they've made successful attacks on the Democrats,” Kondik said. “It's got a lot to do with them making successful attacks on the party in power, as opposed to their own proposals.”
“Big policy proposals, I think, are more of an important feature of maybe presidential elections than they are of these midterm congressional elections.”