A year later at the SOTU, deja vu all over again as Biden calls for lower drug prices, zeroing in on insulin

With his Build Back Better plan on life support and approval ratings in decline, President Joe Biden took to a popular cause on Tuesday night, renewing his call for lower drug prices.  

In his previous budget plan, Biden had hoped to allow Medicare to negotiate some drug prices. But with that effort all but dead because of a deadlocked Senate, Biden turned to insulin prices during his State of the Union address, calling for a $35 cap on a monthly supply.

To illustrate his point, Biden introduced Joshua Davis, a 13-year-old from Midlothian, Va. who has Type 1 diabetes and has become a young advocate for drug price reform. His father, Brian, has Type 1 diabetes as well.

“They need insulin every single day. Insulin costs about $10 a vial to make,” Biden said. “But drug companies charge families like Joshua and his dad up to 30 times that amount. Imagine what it’s like to look at your child who needs insulin to stay healthy and have no idea how in God’s name you’re going to be able to pay for it.”

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In addition, Biden reiterated his support for providing Medicare the ability to negotiate prices. He voiced the same sentiments in his first SOTU a year ago.

But Biden’s budget push was unsuccessful, in part due to resistance from some in his own party, including Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.V.).

PhRMA, a lobbying organization for the industry, opposes Biden’s stance on Medicare, and responded immediately to his address.

“We urge President Biden and Congress to work on a holistic solution that fixes what’s broken in our health care system,” PhRMA said in a statement. “Allowing the government to set the price of medicines isn’t the answer. We know that story will end with less access to medicines and less future innovation, and we know there’s a better way.”

Sanofi, in its annual report on how it prices drugs, which was released today, pointed to rebates and fees that it pays to pharmacy business managers (PBMs), which raise the cost of drugs. The company said that while it has dropped the net price of its top insulin, Lantus, by 62% since 2012, the out-of-pocket cost to patients has risen 60%.  

There’s little doubt that Biden is preaching to the choir. According to a recent poll from Pew Research, 61% of Americans—including 69% of Democrats and 53% of Republicans—favor reducing healthcare costs and list it as the second most important priority this year for Congress, after fixing the economy.

A Kaiser Family Foundation poll from October of last year found that 83% of Americans support allowing the government to negotiate drug prices.

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David Mitchell, the founder of Patients For Affordable Drugs Now, urged the Senate to pass the Build Back Better plan.

“With inflation at record levels and Americans facing rising costs, Big Pharma’s price gouging forces Americans to pay almost four times what people in other nations pay for the same brand-name drugs,” Mitchell said in a statement. “The drug price reforms from the House-passed Build Back Better package allow Medicare to negotiate lower prices, curb Big Pharma’s price gouging, cap out-of-pocket costs and deliver long overdue relief to millions of Americans.”