Remarks at Green River College in Auburn, Washington
The President. Juliana, my colleagues—I'm taking her back to Washington. [Laughter] We're going to get my—the rest of my bill passed. [Laughter] We're going to get it done.
Eastlake High School senior Juliana Graceffo of Sammammish, WA. Yes, you will. Thank you.
The President. By the way, I hope I don't embarrass her, but she's off to Notre Dame next year. I've done the commencement there a couple times. I told her if she sees me on campus, I don't want her to say "Joe who?" when I come up to see her. [Laughter] Promise?
Ms. Graceffo. Promise.
The President. God love you. Thank you very, very much.
Ms. Graceffo. Thank you. Thank you so much—[inaudible].
The President. Thank you, Mom.
Elisa and Juliana, thank you for that introduction. And you know, as my mother would say, "God love you." You're saving lives. You're saving lives by pointing out what needs to be done.
You know, the—I want to start off, though, by pointing out a couple things. Number one, as was mentioned earlier, my wife Jill is a community college professor. I believe she's the only First Lady ever to work full time. And she's still working full time as a community college professor. And that's not why—that's why she's not with me today.
But one of the things we're also working on, just parenthetically—and this is a great—this is a great college. It really is. Thanks in part to the leadership of the Governor, you have one of the best systems in the country.
And I want you to know, though, that we know and I know firsthand—my wife's an English professor and teaches writing as well—the number of students that come back to schools like this and the community college where Jill teaches, Northern Virginia Community College, are coming back having not been in school for a long time, many times; coming back because they want to better their lives, breaking their necks to get here. Some of them—and they're—the average age of my wife's students is 28 years of age. That's the average age. People coming back from—coming through difficult circumstances they find themselves in. And back East, a number of immigrant families coming through.
And the cost is still—no matter how the States try to control it—still matters. So one of the things that—it didn't do all I wanted to do, but I was just able to sign the new budget bill that increases the Pell grants by $400 a year, the largest increase in 10 years. But we have to do more.
Look, I want to say a special thank you to Governor Inslee for his welcome and his partnership across a broad range of issues. I—including strengthening the economy, your economy, and fighting the pandemic. But you know, I refer to him, and I—he knows this to be true because when I was back seeking the nomination, he is the "Environmental Governor" of the Nation. This guy is leading the whole country.
And you have one heck of a congressional delegation, starting with my friend, Patty Murray. You know, when we passed the Recovery Act—the first bill we passed—I went to Patty and I said, "I want to deal with the child tax credit," which was something that had to be done. Patty has been fighting for it for years and years and years. I got it passed. We got it passed. And it reduced child poverty in America by 40 percent. But because of a couple folks—because we don't have this—[applause]—we lack 1 Democrat and 50 Republicans from—keeping it from passing this time around.
But it really fundamentally changed the lives of millions of people, Patty. You know it better than I do. But it reduced child poverty by 40 percent.
And she's talked about—earlier about the cost of childcare. I was a single dad for 5 years when my wife and daughter were killed in an automobile accident. And everybody—and I commuted every day; did 250 miles, 270 miles a day from Wilmington, Delaware, to Washington, DC, on Amtrak.
Everybody thought I did it because I just wanted to be home. And that's true. But I did it because I couldn't possibly afford child care. I was a United States Senator. I had the dubious distinction for 36 years of being listed as the poorest man in the Senate. [Laughter] But I was making a lot of money as a Senator, from my perspective, and I didn't think I should be making any money other than my salary as a Senator.
And I could not possibly afford—even back in 1972 and '3, I could not afford childcare. That's why I went home every single night, over a million—200 million miles—200,000 miles worth over my career.
And, folks, we've got—we—there's easy answers. There's easy answers. We can do all that Patty and I and others have been talking about, and not one person in America making less than $400,000 a year will see a single, solitary increase in their taxes. Not one. Not a single increase.
And, folks, you know, I'm—I've sometimes been called by some of my interesting Republican friends—we're all—"Democrats are all Socialists." I'm a capitalist. And I think if you can make a billion dollars or a million dollars or a hundred million, you should be able to do it. But pay your fair share. [Applause] Pay your fair share.
I come from the corporate State of the world, Delaware. More corporations are incorporated in Delaware than every other State in the Union combined. And I got elected six times as Senator notwithstanding that.
Here's the point: Of the Fortune 500 companies, 40 of them last year, they made $40 billion and didn't pay a single, solitary penny in taxes. It's not right. It's just not fair. All you've got to do is just pay a fair share. And we can do all of this and so much more, but that's not what—my point of being here tonight—or today, I should say.
And Senator Cantwell, she's been a champion in this State, a key player in the bipartisan infrastructure law, and delivering high-speed internet all across the State of Washington. And—because we're going to outcompete the rest of the world. She understands how we do it. We've got to have you have access, access to that information.
Think about it: During the pandemic, how many of your parents had to drive your kids into a McDonald's parking lot to get on the internet to be able to do your homework? Not a joke. This the United States of America, for God's sake. The United States of America. Because of this lady and others, we are going to see to it every single place in this country—rural, urban, and suburban—has access to high-speed internet.
And Congresswoman Schrier, who represents the district: a doctor, an MD, who knows what folks go through in our health care system and knows how to make it better. You know, this includes how to fill the nursing shortage to help colleges like this one train and prepare the next generation of nurses and health care workers.
My wife and her at—when at Delaware Community College and now Northern Virginia, teaches an awful lot of nurses—an awful lot of nurses. And by the way, docs are okay. [Laughter] I've been a significant consumer of health care in my career—[laughter]—unfortunately. I was hospitalized for the better part of 7 months with two cranial aneurysms and an embolism, and my son Beau was—came back as a decorated war hero from the state—from Iraq after a year with stage-four glioblastoma and spent 15 months at the end just hanging on.
And you know, doctors let you live. Nurses, male and female—I'm not joking, any of you in nursing programs—they make you want to live. Not a joke. Not a joke.
I think it's the single most underrated profession in the United States of America. I really mean it. When I was at Walter Reed all those months, I'd lay there in that ICU and look at the monitors. And you know if any of those lines go flat, you're in trouble. [Laughter]
But seriously, after a while—and you've seen this, Doc—you just get tired. Wasn't in pain; just get tired. You just want to stop. And my nurses—I remember to this day their names—they'd come in, and they'd change the pillow, they'd rub my head, they'd do something. They'd keep you moving, talk to you. Talk to you.
That's why, what I did was—they—everybody who comes out of an intensive care unit, the joke is—in hospitals—is they either get taken out in a—the nurses never see them again. They either get taken out in a bag and—or they never want to come back. [Laughter] I used to go back once a month and have dinner for the nurses every night—on the nightshift, to thank them.
So any of you who are—anybody in—well, I'm not sure how many are part of the college, but any of you studying nursing, keep it——
Audience member. Nurses are over here!
The President. Well, God love you. [Applause] No, I really mean it. And I don't want to disappoint you, but the male nurses are as consequential as the female nurses. Okay? [Laughter] Not a joke.
And so, anyway, I just wanted to mention that. And I want to thank Congresswoman [Congressman]* Kilmer and—for the nearby district—the Sixth District, I guess. He's leading the charge in the economy to make sure that we leave no community behind.
And we're also joined today by Larsen and—[laughter]—I know. You've got——
Audience member. Smith.
The President. No, I've got it. [Laughter] DelBene, who's a real champion for working families. And while she couldn't be here today, Congresswoman Jayapal is doing an incredible job in the State. She's visiting—she's been a great partner of mine and worked really close with me. And she's visiting her family now, and she'll be back shortly.
But, folks, we're all laser-focused on lowering the costs for you and your families across the board. And a big way to do that is lower the cost of health care, health care especially in the area of prescription drugs.
The Governor of this State has already gotten insulin down to 35 bucks for—I guess it's a year you've done it so far. Is that right?
Well, either—earlier this month, President Obama came back to the White House. He's a good friend. He came back to the White House—[laughter]—for the first time in a long time to celebrate the 12th anniversary of the Affordable Care Act.
And we talked about how hard it was to get it done in the first place and why we were so determined to get it done. It was for the people who desperately needed it and had no alternatives and deserve to be treated with, as my dad—the word he used most is: Everyone is entitled to be treated with "dignity." Everyone. And there's no loss of your dignity like not being able to take care of a child who's sick or a wife or a spouse, a husband.
And countless Americans lie in bed at night staring up at the ceiling wondering: "What happens—what happens if I get sick? What happens if I get prostate cancer or my wife gets breast cancer? What do we do? How do we take care of the family? Who's going to pay for it? What's going to happen?" Thousands and thousands of Americans stare at that ceiling.
So we did it with the idea that, in America, health care should be a right, not a privilege. And, well, with the help of the leaders here, at a Federal and State level, we began to make some good on the proposition of fighting and defending and improving the Affordable Care Act after it got passed.
You know, if we can hold for a second here, remember—my colleagues remember I was out of office 1 year as Vice President, at the end of the term, in the 2018 elections.
And you remember, the other team wanted to do away with Obamacare. They had scores of court cases, scores of votes to try to eliminate it. But what happened was, a lot of people didn't—Barack is kind of a humble guy. And I used to say to him after we won that Affordable Care fight—I said, "We ought to take a victory lap, let people know what happened." He said: "We don't have time. We don't have time."
Well, guess what? I went into 58 races that year to campaign where there was an incumbent Republican and a Democrat running, and—[inaudible]—Republicans who wanted to eliminate the Affordable Care Act. And what I pointed out was: If in fact that Republican won that year and they took back the Congress, what was going to happen? Anyone with a preexisting condition could not get coverage again, not just through the Affordable Care Act, but couldn't get coverage in your personal insurance you paid for.
And all of a sudden, people went, "Whoa." We won 44 of those races. And the one thing knowing they were going to eliminate—eliminate—the idea that if you have a preexisting condition, you couldn't get coverage. You—now you can under the Affordable Care Act.
Within the first months of my administration, we passed the landmark American Rescue Plan, a law that not only helped us get COVID-19 under control and our economy back on track, but got millions of people more—people insured more—millions of people more insured under the Affordable Care Act.
We made it easier for people to sign up for coverage in the middle of the pandemic. We opened a special enrollment period and gave millions of Americans more time to enroll in the Affordable Care Act. We quadrupled the number of navigators out in the communities helping folks know how to sign up to get the coverage.
And here in Washington State, about 240,000 folks signed up for ACA coverage just last year—an additional 240,000. And we're continuing to expand Medicaid in States.
You know, there are a total of 36 States who said we're going to cover—even though the Federal Government was saying we're going to cover for free in the beginning, and they have to eventually sign on to help pay for it. Well, we added two more States. That's millions of people who have now Medicaid coverage. Over 31 million Americans now have health insurance through the Affordable Care Act. And that includes nearly 900,000 people across the State of Washington.
Four out of five Americans can find quality coverage for under $10 a month on the Affordable Care Act. We made it cheaper to purchase the premium plans under the Affordable Care Act. The average family today, since we passed that law in our administration, are saving $2,400 on annual premiums and getting better coverage.
That's $200 savings every month, allowing them to have more money available for other needs in their lives with inflation, with Putin's gas tax, with their groceries because of a—the loss of access to the wheat fields in Russia and in Ukraine, prescription drugs, and other necessities. That $200 can make a difference in a month.
The bottom line is this: The Affordable Care Act is stronger now than it's ever been. And we're strengthening it even further. Earlier this month, I signed an Executive order directing the Federal agencies to continue doing everything they can in their power to expand the quality of the affordable health care coverage.
This work builds on what we've done to end the surprise charges you often see on medical bills, particularly at hospitals. Any of you who have been hospitalized—I hope you haven't had to, but if you've been lately—and you found out your coverage doesn't cover certain particular doctors, but you then get a surprise bill for a couple thousand bucks because, without your knowledge, they had another doctor looking at what was—what you needed to do. No surprise bills anymore. They can't do that. [Applause] They can't do that. No more surprise medical billing.
And separately, we're fixing what was referred to as the "family glitch." What that is, is a common issue facing 5 million Americans who can't get financial help or get coverage under the Affordable Care Act.
Here's the problem: Under the current rules, a working mom is told that as long as she can afford employer-based coverage herself, she can't qualify for premium subsidies in the Affordable Care Act to afford coverage for the rest of her family. And so we changed that. We proposed—starting next year, working families will get the help they need to afford family coverage under the Affordable Care Act. And as a result, these families will save hundreds of dollars a month.
With this change, it's estimated that 200,000 presently uninsured Americans will gain coverage. Nearly 1 million Americans will see their coverage become more affordable. This is considered one of the best things—the biggest thing my administration can do is lower costs and expand coverage.
We talked about—you know, I've talked about, and it was mentioned by several who spoke before me about just a little breathing room. I was raised in a town in Delaware. And it was a nice neighborhood. It was four—a three-bedroom split-level home in—when they were developing suburban areas—housing developments. That—with four kids, a mom and a dad, and a grandpop living with us.
And the walls were thin. And you could hear—I remember, one day—this is a true story—one day, I could—one night I hear my dad was really restless getting up and down. And I asked my mom the next morning before I went to school what was wrong with Dad. She said, "They told him, honey, that they're not going to cover insurance any more in his job." Health insurance.
Well, like I said, it's about dignity. It's about worrying about your family.
So we need to keep this fight up. And Republicans—and I—as you know, I get criticized by the press because I'm not partisan enough, okay? Well, this is not your father's Republican Party, as I said. They continue to attack the Affordable Care Act and want to eliminate it. They're unrelenting. Multiple court challenges, sabotage from the previous administration, over 70 attempts to repeal the law by Republicans in Congress. Seventy times.
In fact, just last month, Republican Senator John—excuse me, Ron Johnson from Wisconsin said, if the Republicans get back in power and take back the House and the Senate, they should repeal the Affordable Care Act again. Twelve years later, Republicans still haven't stopped their attacks on this lifesaving law.
So pay close attention. If they have their way, it means 100 million Americans with a preexisting condition will once again be denied health coverage—not hyperbole; this is a fact—will be denied health care coverage by their insurance companies. That's what the law was before Obamacare.
In addition, tens of millions of Americans could lose their coverage, including young people, who will no longer be able to be covered by their parents' plans up to age 26. Premiums are going to go through the roof. So there's a lot at stake.
Well, I've got a better idea: Instead of destroying the Affordable Care Act, let's keep building on it. Extend the American Rescue Plan subsidies that we've already passed, allowing premiums and expanded coverage—lower premiums, expanded coverage. Close the Medicaid coverage gap that locks nearly 4 million Americans out of coverage just because they're in States who refused to expand Medicaid. And let's do something that will bring down prices, lower the cost of prescription drugs.
Let me note parenthetically: The only thing that Medicare cannot negotiate with health care providers on are drugs. They can tell you they're only going to pay x amount of money for doctor visits, y amount of money for a particular operation, et cetera. But the only thing they can't negotiate are prescription drugs, except for one area.
We insisted a long time ago that the department that relates to the military—you have a great guy running Veterans Affairs now. Veterans Affairs can say, "We're not going to pay you any more than x or y for this particular drug." But you can't do that for anything else. Medicare can't do that anywhere else.
In America, we pay the highest prescription drug cost of any developed nation in the world. That's a fact. It's about 2½ to three times higher than paid for the same exact drug, the same manufacturer in other countries.
For example, the anticancer drug to treat leukemia and lymphoma costs $1,400 [$14,000]* a month in the United States. Some of you may know that. The same exact drug, the same exact company, same distribution costs $6,000—not $14,000—in France. Same company. American company. Same exact amount. It's unconscionable.
Today, one in four Americans who need prescription drugs struggle to afford them. Nearly 30 percent of people needing essential drugs—doses that they're supposed to take—30 percent skipped their doses because they want to extend life of the drug that they need. Many people use over-the-counter drugs instead, cut pills in half because they can't afford them. And there's others who simply not fill their prescriptions at all.
As I said, for God's sake, this is the United States of America. What are we doing? It's simply wrong, especially since it doesn't cost the drug companies nearly as much to make the drug or the research that went into it.
There's a system they have noted in Germany and other countries, that the drug company can charge—the price is set when they, in fact, try to bring the drug on market. It's like, in our case, the FDA approve it. And the way it works is, they go: "How much did you invest to come up with the drug? How much did you put in?" And they allow a healthy profit of 10, 20, 30, 40 percent and say: "That's what you can sell it for in our country unless you invest more to improve the drug and show you put more into it. Otherwise, you can't go below the cost of inflation."
Look, the insulin we were talking about: You know how much it makes—costs to make that vial of insulin? Ten dollars. T-E-N. Ten dollars to treat diabetes. Ten dollars. A condition that affects millions of Americans, including a Congresswoman. Look, some families have to pay hundreds of dollars a month, some even over a thousand dollars. The average cost is $863 a month—or, excuse me, $683 a month for lifesaving insulin.
You just heard Elisa and Julia [Juliana]* talk about trying to afford insulin and treat the type 1 diabetes. Imagine what it's like if you don't have insurance and you don't have the cash to look at your child, knowing what they need and knowing there's not a damn thing you can do about it.
Not only are your child put in jeopardy, you're deprived of your dignity. How do you look at your child and deal with it? And there's no excuse. None. We're not asking drug companies to do anything that they can't afford. And if you think it doesn't affect you, it does.
Everyone has less money in their pocket today because of the high cost of health care. Over the past decade, health care costs have gone up 50 percent, and a major reason of that increase is the cost of the drugs in health care. Folks, we may not agree on everything, but I think it's safe to say that all of us, whatever our background, our age, where we live, agree that prescription drugs are outrageously expensive.
So here's what I'm proposing—[applause]. And I met with the 12 largest drug manufacturers when I did the initiative the President allowed—the last President, Obama, when I was Vice President, allowed me to do to deal with the cost of this. And I met with them. And I said—they said—I said: "What if you find the cure for a particular drug? What should you be able to charge for a major cancer facility?" They said, "Whatever the market will bear."
I said, "No." I said: "Here's the deal. Here's what I think you should do. If you have to spend millions of dollars, you should be able to recoup everything you put into it. But if it's way beyond the cost of the average American, the Federal Government should step up and compensate you for it so that the—in fact, the American people can still have lifesaving drugs."
So here's what I'm proposing, with the help of the Members of Congress: First, let's cap the cost of insulin at $35 a month. That still means—it costs them $10—3½ times as much it costs them. Second, let's end the days when companies could increase prices with no oversight and no accountability.
If drug companies increase their prices faster than the rate of inflation, they should have to face a steep tax. We're saying that—by the way, we wouldn't let utility companies do it. Utilities can't, all of a sudden, raise their cost of the utilities you're paying. We're saying: "Drug companies, you're finally going to be held accountable when you raise prices for the American people. You should be able to make a significant profit, but not gouge."
Third, let's cap the amount that seniors on Medicare have to spend for prescription drugs each year. If you're on Medicare, you won't have to spend more than $2,000 out of pocket, which is a lot of money, and that's in the—more than 170 bucks a month no matter how many prescriptions you're taking, because Medicare will take up the rest. Drug companies, insurance companies, Medicare would pick up the rest of the cost.
And finally, let's give Medicare the power to negotiate prescription drug prices. For every other type of health care—[applause]—uses it to leverage lower prices for American seniors. But for prescription drugs, the only prescription drug Medicare is prohibited by law from negotiating to get the best deals for seniors.
And by the way, it doesn't put the drug company—we're just saying we're not going to—Medicare is not going to buy it. They're not going to buy it beyond a certain price. It doesn't mean you can't continue to manufacture and ask a billion dollars for it. But the Federal Government's not going to pay for it.
It's long past time we get rid of these absurd limitations. Let Medicare negotiate price—fair prices, that reflect the cost of research and development and the need for a significant profit, but also affordable for seniors.
Let me close with this: I grew up in family where, if prices went up for things that were daily requirements, like the gallon of gasoline, it became a discussion at the kitchen table. It mattered. It was always on the margins. We felt it. That's why I'm so focused on doing everything I can to lower the cost of gas and energy and accelerate our transition to clean energy. And I also know there are other basic needs that affect the standard of living for most families.
I was a single dad, as I said, for 5 years. I couldn't afford childcare. No way I could. But I had a sister and a brother. We have an expression in my family—for real, not a joke—"If you have to ask, it's too late." Think about—[inaudible].
So, when my wife and daughter were killed and the boys came home from the hospital, I found out my sister and her husband had already moved into my house. I had bought a—I had purchased an old farmhouse, a colonial farmhouse in northern Delaware. And it had a little barn on it as well. It was only a couple acres. My brother came in and spent money changing the barn and the upstairs of the barn into an apartment. My brother and sister moved in. I'd drop my kids off every morning when I'd go to the train station with my mom.
But look, as I said, I had a good job. How do people make it?
But I know childcare is hard. It costs a lot of money. That's why, with your Members of Congress—led by Patty, who's an absolute leader on this—I want to cap the child—the cost of childcare for families making under $125,000 to 7 percent of your income. We can do these things without raising taxes a penny to anyone, as I said, making over—under 400,000 bucks.
The bottom line is this: When I was running for the President, you heard me say a thousand times—you probably got tired of it, and you're tired of it now—that we're going to build this economy around you, the American middle class. We're going to—because when the middle class does well, the poor have a way up and the wealthy do very well. They never hurt when the middle class is doing well.
And we're going to deal in people and the places that have been left out and left behind. And we're making progress. Over the course of my Presidency so far—14 months—we've created 7.9 million good-paying jobs, more jobs created in 14 months than any Presidency in a year ever. And the unemployment rate is 3.6 percent, down from 6.4 percent when I took office, the fastest decline in unemployment at the start of any Presidency ever recorded. Washington State, you've added 218,000 jobs, and unemployment dropped from 6.3 to 4.2 percent.
Last year, in 2021, we cut—and all this was going on. We cut the deficit. You know, my—all my friends talk about how they care about the deficit? We cut it $350 billion last year. And this year, in 2022, we're on track to cut the deficit by more than—I want—mark it down because you'll remind me of this—[laughter]—by $1.3 trillion—[applause]—1.3. If that stays on course, it'd be the largest 1-year reduction of a deficit in history.
This is particularly important now as we work to reduce pressure on inflation. From Washington State to all across America, we've gone from "on the mend" to "on the move." We're coming at our challenges from a position of strength. I'm more optimistic. I'm more optimistic about America today than I've been in my whole life and my whole career, because I fee—see a future that's within our grasp.
We're the only nation on Earth—think about this now—we're the only nation on Earth that has always come out of every crisis we've ever met stronger than when we went in it. No other nation in the world can say that. It's because of you, because of the ingenuity and determination of the American people. We've just looked at opportunity and seized it. That's exactly what we're doing today.
So as my grandfather Finnegan used to say, "With the grace of God and the good will of the neighbors and the creek not rising, we're going to do well." [Laughter] It's going to be hard for a while getting through the cost of gasoline and energy because of Putin and the war, but we're going to do it.
And with your help—and I say to all the folks who are students here, I wish you well. We need you badly. You're—and the reason I'm so optimistic, think about it: You are the least prejudiced, the most involved, the most concerned generation in American history. You really are.
So thank you. Thank you, thank you, thank you. God bless you all. Appreciate it. Thanks.
NOTE: The President spoke at 1:19 p.m. in the Grand Hall. In his remarks, he referred to Sammammish, WA, resident Elisa Graceffo, mother of Juliana Graceffo, who introduced the President; Sen. Joseph A. Manchin III; President Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin of Russia; and Secretary of Veterans Affairs Denis R. McDonough. He also referred to his sister Valerie Biden Owens and her first husband Bruce Saunders; and his brothers James and Francis; and Executive Order 14070.
* White House correction.
Joseph R. Biden, Remarks at Green River College in Auburn, Washington Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/355535