Biden touts lower drug prices with Bernie’s help

President Biden and Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) joined together Wednesday to highlight the administration’s efforts to lower health care costs along with the senator’s recent wins in pressuring drug companies to lower the prices of some commonly used inhalers.

Gathered at the White House with health care advocates and experts, Sanders lamented that despite working to address high health care costs for the past 20 years, “not much has happened” in that time.

“A lot of talk, yep. But no real progress. The drug companies continued to go along their merry way and raise prices anytime they wanted, to any level that they wanted, for any reason that they wanted — just do whatever they wanted,” Sanders said.

Sanders has previously been critical of the administration for what he has characterized as a lack of real action on tackling health care costs. As chair of the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions, Sanders threatened to stall the confirmation of National Institutes of Health Director Monica Bertagnolli last year until the White House presented “a very clear strategy” on lowering health care costs.

He ultimately relented to the confirmation in September after receiving a “commitment” from the White House for more work on lowering costs, though he voted “nay” on confirming Bertagnolli as he didn’t believe she was prepared to take on drugmakers.

But the senator joined Biden Wednesday in celebrating the progress that has been made, highlighting the cost-cutting provisions included in the Inflation Reduction Act like the $35 cap on insulin, Medicare negotiations as well as the administration’s recently issued guidance on “march-in rights” for drugs developed with taxpayer funds.

He noted how three of the top four inhaler manufacturers have recently capped the cost of some of their most popular inhaler products to $35 a month, calling out Teva Pharmaceuticals for being the only remaining company not to follow suit.

“But let us be clear, despite all that we have accomplished up to now. It is not enough. Much, much more needs to be done,” the Vermont senator said.

Biden signaled a desire to go harder on health care costs in his remarks, saying, “I think we should be more aggressive. It’s time to negotiate lower prices for at least 50 drugs a year. We only have — the law only required 10 now and then 15 and moves up.”

He reiterated his and Sanders’s shared goal of capping health care costs at $2,000 annually for all Americans, not just those on Medicare.

“I’m a capitalist. Capitalism, though, without competition, isn’t capitalism, it’s exploitation. That’s what’s going on. Exploitation. When Big Pharma doesn’t play by the rules, competitors can’t offer lower prices for generic drugs and devices and carry that medication so prices are raised artificially. I thank Bernie for leading the charge to do something about this,” Biden said.

“With Bernie’s help, we’re showing how health care ought to be a right, not a privilege in America. That’s why I’ve never been more optimistic,” Biden added.

The pharmaceutical trade group PhRMA, whose lawsuit against Medicare negotiation was tossed out earlier this year, sought to shift the blame of high drug costs in a statement following the remarks.

“This is another missed opportunity to address the real barriers between patients and their medicines. Biopharmaceutical companies provide significant rebates and discounts that have continued to lower net prices, yet insurers and PBMs aren’t sharing those savings with patients at the pharmacy counter,” said Alex Schriver, PhRMA’s senior vice president of public affairs. “When companies have introduced lower priced versions of their medicines, insurers and PBMs have refused to cover them because they make less money.”

“Policymakers can’t fix what’s broken if they don’t take on abuses in the PBM system that are driving up costs and making it harder for people to get the medicines they need,” Schriver added.

—Updated at 4:35 p.m.

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