"Appalled" Biden Renews Calls for Reforms in Cost of Prescription Drugs

President Joe Biden is taking steps to control the high cost of prescription drugs. (Melina Mara-Pool/Getty Images)

President Joe Biden is taking steps to control the high cost of prescription drugs. (Melina Mara-Pool/Getty Images)

Pledges to reduce the high cost of prescription drugs have been taken by multiple presidential administrations. On Thursday, President Joe Biden called for the U.S. Senate to approve his Build Back Better legislation to reduce the costs of prescription drugs provided through Medicare and cap out-of-pocket drug costs for seniors.

Another key provision related to drug prices in the Build Back Better plan is that the legislation, which the U.S. House of Representatives has already approved, would limit insulin costs to $35 per month for those covered under government insurance programs. On Thursday, Biden called for the legislation to be passed during an appearance in Virginia.

What Does President Biden Say About Cost of Prescription Drugs?

“Today, one in four Americans who need prescription drugs struggle to afford them — one in four. Nearly 30% have skipped doses of essential drugs they’re supposed to take. Others have simply not filled prescriptions that the doctor had given them; tried to use over-the-counter drugs or pills cut in half because they can’t afford the cost of their prescription,” Biden said, according to a White House transcript

During his speech, Biden pointed out that the cost of prescription drugs paid in the United States is about two or three times higher than what other countries pay. 

In his remarks, the president pointed to a cancer drug that costs $14,000 per month. Biden said the drug, which he did not identify by name, is available in France for $6,000 per month. 

“$6,000 for the same exact drug, same exact manufacturer, same exact amounts. Not 14, but 6. That’s for a month’s supply,” Biden said. “This is the United States of America, for God’s sake. That’s just wrong. It’s simply wrong, especially since it doesn’t cost the drug companies nearly, nearly, nearly, nearly as much to make the drug or the research that went into them.”

When it comes to the cost of insulin, Biden said a vial of the life-saving medication used by diabetics costs about $10 to make. He said he was appalled that the list price for the medication was more than $300 in some cases. 

Biden recalled his tenure as Vice President of the United States when he led the Cancer Moonshot program. He noted that in conversations with drugmakers, he would ask the question of how much they thought a cure for cancer would cost consumers. Biden said the “almost universal response” was “what the market would bear.” He said that thought was appalling and argued that prescription drugs should be treated more like a utility and the cost of prescription drugs must be kept in accordance to it. 

“The idea you can charge whatever you want is just not going to happen in the United States of America if I have anything to do with it,” Biden said.

Biden’s push for prescription drug pricing control comes when the country is seeing a spike in inflation when costs for basic necessities such as gasoline and groceries are quickly rising. 

To control the cost of prescription drugs, Biden pointed to the proposals of his Build Back Better program that includes a plan to penalize drug companies that increase the prices of their prescription drugs faster than the rate of inflation. Drug companies would be required to pay a “steep tax” if the costs of their drugs increase faster than inflation, the president said. 

“This will help us end the days when drug companies could increase their prices with no oversight, no accountability, and no responsibility. We’re saying to drug companies: ‘You are finally going to become accountable when you raise prices on the American people. Accountability,” Biden said, noting that companies will still make a “significant profit.”

The pharmaceutical industry has largely opposed governmental pricing controls for prescription medications. The industry has argued that the controls on the cost of prescription drugs will undermine drug access and fail to address insurance system issues.

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