Joe Biden

Remarks on Efforts To Reduce Prescription Drug and Health Care Costs in Portland, Oregon

October 15, 2022

The President. Thank you, Arleta. Thank you, thank you, thank you. Hello, Portland! Thank you all so very much for being here.

And, Ron Wyden and Jeff Merkley, I—and you know, Suzanne is, you know—she's something else. She—Bonamici. She's doing pretty darn good. Where is she? There you are. There you are. I am—thoroughly embarrassed her yesterday by letting everybody in the world, at least in the State, know that it was her birthday yesterday. She turned 30 yesterday. [Laughter]

They're here today, and they deserve a heck of a lot of credit for the significant legislation we've gotten passed, relating to seniors particularly.

You know, the last time I was here in Portland, I talked about the bipartisan infrastructure law, the investments we're making to modernize Portland's airport, fix your roads, your bridges all across this State and to get better water and get rid of lead pipes and internet and so—a whole range of things.

But you know, today I'm here to talk about what my—introducer talked about—about lower drug costs, lowering costs for Americans across the country. And I know it's been a rough 4 or 5 years in this country for an awful lot of people. But we've got—made a lot of progress. But folks are still struggling. We can't kid ourselves about that.

And I think—when I think about the way my dad used to think about it—my dad was a—was a really fine man, and he was well read, he was—never got to go to college, and he was a salesperson. And my dad used to say that everybody deserves a little bit of breathing room. Just a little bit of breathing room.

And you'd sit down at the end of the day, end of the month at that kitchen table and determine whether you're able to pay all the bills that month and had a little bit left over. Did you have just a little bit left over, just a little breathing room. Well, by that, that's all about what this is about, what we're about. You know, a lot of people don't have any breathing room; it's especially the case when it comes to health care and prescription drugs.

That's why Senator Wyden's leadership—and I'm not being—not because I'm here and because he's my friend; this is no malarkey, as my mother would say. [Laughter] All kidding aside, he's the chairman of the Finance Committee. He has done more to get the most significant legislation ever passed, other than the actual passage of Medicare and Social Security, than anybody has in the United States Congress. Stand up.

Because, look, I wrote a thing called the Inflation Reduction Act, one of the most significant laws in history when it comes to helping families pay their bills at the end of the month.

And we talked about—a little bit about prescription drugs today because today is an important day for those on Medicare. We pay more for our prescription drugs than any other nation in the world. And by the way, it's the same exact drug. Not just a drug, but the same manufacturer. We pay considerably more than they do in France, Canada, Spain, anywhere around the world. And it's—there's no sense to it. No sense to it.

For years, many of us have been trying to fix the problem. For years, Big Pharma, the pharmaceutical companies, have stood in the way. When I was a young Senator, I was fighting Big Pharma, trying to get the prices reduced, but there was no way to get it done. For years, there's been no check on how fast Big Pharma—the big pharmaceutical companies—can raise drug prices.

This year alone, drug companies raised the price of more than 1,200 drugs higher than the rate of inflation. This year alone. And guess what? They didn't do anything else with the drug. It's not like they found a new way to make it better. The same exact drug, 1,200 of them. The average price increase rose on those drugs over 30 percent. Thirty percent. It's just wrong. It's simply wrong.

But between Merkley and that other guy I just talked about—[laughter]—in the Senate—look, in 1922 [2022],* the price for one blood pressure drug that millions of Medicare patients—beneficiaries rely on went up one—went up by 500 percent. Five hundred percent. Another drug used to treat autoimmune conditions increased by $1,000 this year. One thousand dollars. Those of you who are on it, you'll know what I'm telling you is to be true. It's outrageous.

But this year, the American people won. And for the first time, Big Pharma lost. Big Pharma lost. Now, if Big Pharma tries to raise drug prices faster than inflation, they're going to have to write a check to Medicare to cover the difference. They're going to not be able to do it. They're going to cover the difference. And look, instead of that money going into the pockets of drug companies, it will go into your pockets in the form of lower drug prices.

You know, there's more money at the end of the month to pay those grocery bills, get your car repaired, and buy your grandson a birthday gift. That's the important stuff. And Inflation Reduction Act gives Medicare—Medicare—the power to negotiate lower prescription drug costs for the first time.

And by the way, the power is, you make billions of dollars off of Medicare because we purchase the drugs you make for the elderly. But guess what? This time around we're going to say: "We're only going to pay you so much for that drug. Take it or leave it. You either sell it at that price or you don't get to—we're not going to buy it." That's when I say, "Make the price come down." That's how it's happening.

Because we're able to do that for the VA and all the veterans benefits my son, when he was dying, got. You know? So it's just about time. We've been fighting for this for a long time. A long time.

Seniors are going to see their out-of-pocket costs for prescription drugs capped at $2,000 a year, whatever the expense of their drugs. And some of the cancer drugs cost 14-, 15,000 dollars a year. Well, guess what? When this kicks in, no senior will have to pay more than $2,000 a year for all of their drugs, no matter what. All of them. All of them.

And, folks, I know the names of these pieces of legislation are just boring, but the Inflation Reduction Act caps the cost of insulin for seniors on Medicare at $35 [a month]* per prescription instead of $400 [a month]* per prescription. Four hundred dollars. You know how much it costs—you know how much it costs them to make that drug? Fifteen dollars to make it and package it. Thirty-five is a lot of money compared to fifteen. They're going to make a good profit. They're charging sometimes 300 times as much.

And, folks, look, we wanted a cap for everyone, including—I wanted a cap, and we all did—the members of your delegation and my—the Democratic delegation that are here today. We wanted to cap insulin for everybody.

For example, I was down in Virginia at a town meeting like this, and a woman stood up when I was talking and said: "I have two children on insulin. If they don't get their insulin, they can die, and they can have serious consequences. And I don't have enough—I don't have enough insurance to—I don't have private insurance, so I can't afford it, and I can pay for it. I don't qualify for anything." And she started to cry.

Imagine being a parent, having your dignity stripped of you, looking at your child, knowing what they need and knowing you've got to cut pills in half or you've got to change—you've got to share this material with one—for two children for one.

Folks, and guess what? Republicans in Congress—not one single Republican voted for any of this, but they got enough votes and sent it to block taking care of non-Medicare patients. So that mother still is going to have that problem. That mother is still going to have that problem.

And, folks, like I said, it costs $10 to make that insulin and package it. Ten. But drug companies have been charging 30 times—I said 300; I misspoke. Thirty times. Might as well be 300 for these people who are—need it.

Imagine, as I said, being that parent, being the—and I'm not going to ask you because I don't want to embarrass anybody, but there's a lot of people in there that use insulin, my guess is. Raising your hand, I see that.

And it's expensive as hell.

Audience member. Hell yes, it is! [Laughter]

The President. Well, we're going to keep fighting for lower costs for—cost of living of insulin for children and families as well.

Because of the Inflation Reduction Act, seniors on Medicare Part D will also be able to get their recommended vaccines, like shingles vaccines and vaccines for—without any copays. And they've been paying an average of 100 to 200 dollars a month for the shots. Nothing. Zero. You're not going to pay anything for these vaccines.

And starting this week, we're making—this is a big deal—we're making hearing aids more affordable, but we're also making them available over the counter so people don't have to pay the expensive visits to a specialist. This week—this Monday, you're going to start seeing hearing aid ads [hearing aids]* on your store shelves. And the FDA estimates that it's going to save patients as much as $3,000 for a pair of hearing aids.

And today marks the beginning of Medicaid's [Medicare's]* open—they call it open enrollment period, so when seniors pick plans for next year, they'll be able to take advantage of the progress we've made. And that's not all.

For years, the fee you pay for Medicare to cover your visits to a doctor's office has gone up. Now, for the first time in more than a decade, they're going to go down. They're going to go down.

And earlier this week, we announced that Social Security benefits are going to go up an average of $140 a month beginning—starting next year. Seniors are going to be ahead of inflation next year. For the first time in 10 years, Social Security checks are going to up while their Medicare premiums go down. And, folks, that's a big deal for ordinary people, people on Medicare.

Yesterday I signed an Executive order directing the Department of Health and Human Services, within 90 days, to put a plan on my desk for finding additional ways to lower prescription drug costs for seniors.

But we're not just focused on seniors. Thanks especially to Ron Wyden here in Oregon for making it easier for families with Medicaid to keep their kids insured by getting rid of paperwork they normally have to do every single every year.

Oregon residents with serious medical needs are going to get help finding housing and healthy food so they can avoid expensive hospital stays and visits to the emergency room.

Earlier this week, the Treasury Department took action to fix a problem that was making it harder for families—much harder for families to afford health care coverage for their spouse or child. It's the so-called "family glitch," it was referred to as.

Under the old rules, a working mom was told: As long as she could afford her employer-based coverage for herself, she couldn't qualify for premium subsidies for Affordable Care coverage for her family. Well, now 1 million people are going to get that coverage and pay lower premiums.

Last year, a family of four with health coverage through the Affordable Care Act, they saved an average of $2,400 because of the American Rescue Plan that I signed into law. Now, the Inflation Reduction Act locks in place those lower premiums for millions of families. They're not going to go away.

But, folks, let me tell you something. Every single Democrat in Congress voted for the Inflation Reduction Act. And every single Republican voted against it. Every single one, House and Senate. Not only that, now the congressional Republicans are telling us their number-one priority if they win—their number-one priority—this is their pamphlet—their number-one priority is to repeal the Inflation Reduction Act.

Let me be crystal clear about what that means. If Republicans in Congress have their way, it means the power we just gave Medicare to negotiate lower prescription drug prices goes away—gone. The $2,000 cap on prescription drugs for seniors goes away—gone. The $35-a-month cap on insulin goes away—gone. Savings on health care premiums just got—we just got for millions of Americans—gone.

And of course, not just the Inflation Reduction Act they want to get rid of. They also want to get rid of the Affordable Care Act. That means an end to the protections for tens of millions of people. You know, the only reason why people with preexisting conditions who can't afford expensive insurance get it is because the Affordable Care Act says you can't block someone with a preexisting condition. But they used to be able to say, "No, you can't get it." It's a big deal. If Republicans have their way, that will be gone as well.

But look, one other thing: We haven't even talked about it, and I'm going to talk about health care today. But in that same Inflation Reduction Act, I was able to put in a little thing for the environment, $368 billion. Because the existential threat to the planet is climate change. It's real. It's real. It's genuine. They want to get rid of that as well, I might add. I might add. They want to get rid of that as well.

But look, here's the bottom line—and please hear this: When it actually comes time—when it actually comes time—to do something about inflation around the kitchen table, Republicans in Congress said no. If they take control, they've said their first aim is to get rid of the Inflation Reduction Act, and inflation is going to go up, not down.

You know, when you sit at that kitchen table—I told you about paying your bills—well, what are necessities for the vast majority of families? Prescription drugs. If you lower prescription drug costs significantly, it lowers their cost of a family on inflation—for their family, it's reduced. It goes on.

The same way what's in the Inflation Reduction Act has to do with your ability to be able to get tax credits for buying—if you need a new coffee machine, a new washer, a new refrigerator, and you buy an efficient refrigerator, efficient coffee machine, you get a tax credit for it. It costs you less money. It's estimated the average family will save $500 a year as well on just that. There are also tax credits for weatherizing your home, putting in new windows to keep the—or a door that doesn't, you know, leak air and bring in the cold, et cetera.

There's a lot in here that lowers the everyday costs for middle class families to be able to make it.

And look, I come from a wealthy State, the State of Delaware. Well, guess what? I've never been a big fan of trickle-down economy, where if the—no, I'm serious. But that's where we've been for the last 30 years, guys. That's where we've been. If the wealthy do well, it trickles down, everybody does well. I'm a "bubble-up" guy. [Laughter] Seriously.

When the middle class does well—when the middle class does well—working class people have a way up and the wealthy do just fine. They do just fine. And by the way, the middle class built this country, and unions built the middle class.

I don't want to take too much of your—more of your time, but this is one of the reasons I got involved in politics 800 years ago. [Laughter]

Already, the vast majority of House Republicans have signed on to a budget—a budget they have—and I'll just read one section of the budget—that they have to cut Medicare and Social Security. And you think I'm exaggerating this. But they—I have the pamphlet they put out, okay?

Senator Scott, the Senator from Florida, who is the chairman in charge of reelecting Republicans to the United States Senate, this year proposed a plan to put Social Security and Medicare on the chopping block every 5 years. "All Federal legislation sunsets in 5 years. If the law is worth keeping, Congress can pass it." Or, in other words, if it doesn't affirmatively pass Medicare again, it goes away.

If it doesn't affirmatively pass Social Security—again, I know this sounds bizarre—well, guess what? There was one guy that thought it was too lenient—a guy who happens to be a Senator from Wisconsin, named Johnson. He thinks it should be—no, every year. This is not—I never thought I'd live to see this. It's not a joke. He wants every single year that Congress will have to affirmatively vote back into law—back into law these programs or they go away.

And it's not just Social Security and Medicare. He wants to put veterans benefits and everything else in the Federal budget at risk the same way.

Look, let me close with this. Over the last few years, we've faced some of the most difficult challenges in our history, both domestically and in foreign policy. And we're making real progress helping folks just get a little more breathing room.

Despite the opposition from some of the most powerful interests—special interests—we're lowering health care costs, we're strengthening Medicare, we're fighting for folks who need our help.

And one of the reasons why it's so important to America's future: We just have to remember—we have to remember who in God's name we are. This is the United States of America. [Applause] No, I—think about it.

And I've never been more optimistic in my life. I've been doing this a while, man. I tell you, I've never been more optimistic. We have a chance—we're the only nation in the world that's come out of a crisis better than we went into the crisis. So it's not just building back to what things were, it's building back better—much better. We have enormous opportunity.

For example, the idea that we're in a situation—if you all were going to—I should—I'm supposed to stop, but I want to say one more thing. [Laughter]

There's a school next door. One of the reasons why the United States of America ended up the most powerful and successful nation in the world is, our legislators and Presidents decided—Democrat and Republican—back at the turn of the 20th century, in the late 1900s—nineteen—I mean, excuse me, 1890, in that range—they decided we were going to have automatically available for everyone 12 years of education. Regardless of your education—I mean, regardless of your income, regardless of your background, everybody would have free grade 1 through 12.

Now, the rest of the world has caught up with us. If we were doing this today, would we say 12 years is enough to compete?

Audience members. No!

The President. No, I'm being—I'm being genuine. This is not a political—it's just a raw statement. Twelve years enough in this changing world, in the second quarter of the 21st century? Is it enough?

Well, guess what? We found out there was a 6- or 7-year study done by—I believe it was Harvard and Stanford together—determining what's the difference if you put a 3-year-old, not in preschool, but put a 3-year-old in school, learning reading, writing, adding, subtracting, and you add afterschool work.

Well—[inaudible]—you know what they concluded? That 56 percent of the children, no matter what background they came from, no matter whether came from a house that didn't have a single book in it, and mom or dad didn't know how to read—no matter what, they have a 56—better percent chance of getting all through all of the years—all 12 years—without any problems.

Folks, but not only that—we should have post-high school. Post-high school. And the cost—and the cost of that is doable, just having apprentice programs and 2 years of community college.

Folks, look, I promise I will end with this. One of the things I didn't mention that Ron got done in the Affordable Care Act—I mean, excuse me, in the legislation we passed to lower drug prices—he was able to raise the taxes on corporations. Not a lot. We want to do more. But guess what? There were 54—was it 54 or 55?—54, I think it was, American Fortune 500 companies that made $40 billion in 2022—did not pay a single penny in taxes.

Audience members. It's wrong!

The President. No, I'm not joking. Not a single penny. And guess what? Now they're paying a minimum of 15 percent. That's paying for all of this.

And, folks, next time you hear the Republicans talk about "big-spendin' Democrats," remind them: Biden lowered the Federal deficit last year by $350 billion and by $1 trillion this year. That's a fact. So don't tell me you can't afford it.

Let's go get 'em! Every time I'd walk out of my grandpop's house, he'd say, "Joey go out and"—he said—"spread the faith." And my grandma would go: "No, Joey. No, Joey, holler. Holler. Not just keep the faith, spread it."

Folks, there's nothing beyond our capacity, I promise you. There's nothing beyond our capacity. And it's time for America to come back and come back strong.

God bless you all.

NOTE: The President spoke at 12:27 p.m. at the East Portland Community Center. In his remarks, he referred to Arleta Christain, senior director of health and older adult services, Urban League of Portland, who introduced the President; Rep. Suzanne M. Bonamici; and Midlothian, VA, resident Shannon Davis and her sons Joshua and Jackson. He also referred to Executive Order 14087.

* White House correction.

Joseph R. Biden, Remarks on Efforts To Reduce Prescription Drug and Health Care Costs in Portland, Oregon Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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