Remarks on Prescription Drug Prices
The President. Good afternoon.
Coronavirus Prevention Efforts
Before I begin, let me say a few words about the pandemic, the pandemic of the unvaccinated. I know there are lot of people out there trying to turn a public safety measure—that is, children wearing masks in school so they can be safe—into a political dispute. And this isn't about politics. This is about keeping our children safe.
I saw a video and reports from Tennessee of protesters threatening doctors and nurses who were before a schoolboard making the case that, to keep kids safe, there should be mandatory masks. And as they walked out, these doctors were threatened, these nurses were threatened.
You know, our health care workers are heroes. They were the heroes when there was no vaccine. Many of them gave their lives trying to save others. And they're heroes again with a vaccine. They're doing their best to care for the people refusing to get vaccinated—unvaccinated folks who are being hospitalized and dying as a result of not being vaccinated.
To the mayors, school superintendents, educators, local leaders who are standing up to the Governors politicizing mask protection for our kids—thank you, thank you as well. Thank God that we have heroes like you, and I stand with you all, and America should as well.
Prescription Drug Prices
Now, let me turn to the focus of today's remarks. There aren't a lot of things that almost every American can agree on. But I think it's safe to say that all of us—whatever our background, our age, or where we live—can agree that prescription drug prices are outrageously expensive in America.
Today I'd like to talk about how we're going to help millions of Americans save money and ease their burdens by lowering the cost of prescription drugs.
Let me start by acknowledging the groundbreaking and lifesaving work that many pharmaceutical companies are doing. Look no further than the vaccines they are manufacturing and delivering that are helping us beat this pandemic and save lives.
But we can make a distinction between developing these breakthroughs and jacking up prices on a range of medications for a range of everyday diseases and conditions.
Right now, right here in America, we pay the highest prescription drug costs of any developed nation in the world. Let me say that again: of any developed nation in the world. About two to three times what other countries pay.
Last week, in the Oval Office, I hosted a small-business owner named Gail from Denver. She's 60 years old. When she was 11, she was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes. For nearly 50 years, she's had to take insulin to stay alive.
But you know what she told me? She said she doesn't worry about becoming blind or her blood sugar dropping dangerously low, the natural worries of anyone with type 1 diabetes. She worries about being able to pay for her prescription drugs.
During our conversation, she pulled out a vial of insulin from her bag. In 2001, she said, that single vial cost $32 a bottle. Today, that exact same bottle, with the same exact formula—no changes—costs $280 per bottle.
Gail and her husband work hard. They spend wisely. But because of the cost of her prescription drugs, her husband may not be able to retire. They drive the same car, she said, she's had for 17 years, unable to afford repairs or a new one. And Gail is not alone.
It's estimated that more than 34 million Americans—10 percent of the population of the United States—have diabetes, including more than 1.5 million of those who have type 1 diabetes. And the outrageous cost, affecting everyone across the board, spanning every kind of condition and disease, is similar.
I remember what it was like for my mom as she got older and moved in with us. Her prescription drugs were so expensive that it took me, my two brothers, and my sister—three siblings—chipping in to cover the thousands of dollars in monthly costs that she did—that she had to exhaust, rather than exhaust the little savings she had, for her prescription drugs.
It's personal to so many of us and so many of you. You know, for more than 1 million Americans living with multiple sclerosis, one common drug for that disease costs $7,100 per month. The price has gone up 1,000 percent over the last 20 years without any change in the drug.
For more than 1 million people with rheumatoid arthritis, a common prescription drug used to cost about $1,350 per month; that was when it was introduced back in 2003. Today, the same drug costs $7,700 per month, over five times more expensive without any change.
For years, the price of many prescription drugs has dramatically outpaced inflation. These prices have put the squeeze on too many families and stripped them of their dignity. They've been forced—we force people into terrible choices, between maintaining their health, paying the rent or the mortgage, putting food on the table. I mean, literally. And that's the case for a lot of working families and seniors, even if you can get the care you need.
But today, working families and too many seniors are struggling to make it work. Today, one in four Americans who take prescription drugs struggle to afford them. Nearly 30 percent have skipped doses, cut pills in half, or—because they can't afford the cost. We have to change this, and we can.
My administration has already taken significant steps to lower the cost of prescription drugs. Last month, I signed an Executive order that has the effect of improving competition in the economy, which will result in lower prescription drug costs.
Right now, when a drug company seeks permission from the FDA, the Food and Drug Administration, for a certain drug to get a patent, it's allowed—the patent—it's allowed to exclusively sell that drug without competition for up to 12 years. When that time period expires, other companies can come along, make the same exact drug, and sell it cheaper. It's called a generic drug.
But unfortunately, it often takes a long time—years and years—for this to happen. That's why I've instructed the Federal Drug Administration to get these genetic [generic]* drugs to consumers faster. This is going to increase competition, lower drug prices for everyone.
Research shows that prices could be cut by 25 to 33 percent and save $54 billion for consumers over the next 10 years. Makes a gigantic difference for an average family.
Secondly, I've ordered the FDA to work with States and Tribes to import prescription drugs safely from Canada. These are drugs that the FDA has determined are safe. And they're going to make sure the drugs get to the States and Tribes safely.
Colorado estimates that their version of the drug importation program is going to save $35 million to $60 million a year for people in Colorado, cutting the prices down by more than 60 percent for the cost of the same drug.
These things—and by the way, you know, the company that's making these drugs and causing—and charging exorbitant prices are selling the same drug in other countries at considerably lower prices. It's not like there's another company always making this drug—same outfit.
These thing by themselves will be a great help. But to really solve the problem, we need Congress to act. That's what my Build Back Better plan will do. You know, there's long been talk—I mean, a long time, since the days when I was back in the Senate—about giving Medicare the power to negotiate lower drug prices.
Now, Medicare takes care of millions of people. Medicare—my plan is going to allow that. Every other type of health care service—from the cost of a doctor's visit, how much a doctor can charge for a visit, hospital visits, crutches, wheelchairs—Medicare is allowed to negotiate and say, "We'll pay no more, from the Medicare, than the following amount for those things."
As I've said before, the only thing Medicare is not allowed to negotiate are prices for prescription drugs. My plan gets rid of that prohibition. The proposal I made while I was running for President is that Medicare should negotiate drug prices across the board.
Congress is currently debating a more narrow vision letting Medicare negotiate some of the most expensive drugs, particularly from those companies that don't face competition for that drug. We're going to provide that competition through Medicare. Medicare is going to negotiate a fair price.
Right now drug companies will set a price at whatever the market will bear. Some of you may remember when I had the Moonshot going as—when I was Vice President. I met with 12 drug companies. And I agreed I would not name them at the time; it was just a private discussion. I said, "If any one of you came up with a drug that cured a particular type of cancer, what do you think you should be able to charge for it?" They said: "Whatever the market would bear. Whatever it will bear."
But that often means a significant number of people can't afford it under any circumstance and they'll die without it. That's unacceptable.
What we're proposing is that we'll negotiate a base—negotiate with the company based on a fair price, one that reflects the costs of the research and development and the need for providing for a significant profit, but that's still affordable for consumers.
And by the way, if there was a significant amount that's invested in it and a fair price is very expensive, we're going to have to figure out how society can provide for that drug that will save lives if people who can't afford it. But that's what we are trying to get done. And it has to get done.
But not only that my plan caps the amount that seniors have to spend on prescription drugs each year at no more than about $3,000 a year, our plan says that drug companies can only raise prices based on the rate of inflation after it's determined how much they've invested and what a healthy profit constitutes.
Studies have shown that if we do this, we can save seniors thousands of dollars a year. For example, an expensive drug for a cancer called multiple myeloma can cost $20,000 a month. Twenty thousand dollars a month. People who need that drug pay an average of $1,300 a month out of pocket, even with Medicare.
What I'm proposing would reduce the total cost by thousands of dollars and seniors would not pay more than $250 a month on average. That'd be a game changer. And by the way, it isn't just seniors who will benefit. This would lower prescription drug prices for all Americans. And here's how: If Medicare prices are available to private insurance companies, then it would reduce the cost of employer-based health insurance coverage.
What that means is: Once Medicare negotiates a lower drug price for its beneficiaries, an employer-based plan shouldn't have to keep paying whatever the drug company demands. They should get access to the same drug for the same price as Medicare.
So, if you're not on Medicare—you get your prescription drugs through your employer-based plan—your plan should pay the same price for that drug as someone on Medicare. It means drug companies would have to sell their drugs to all distributors at the Medicare price or face up to a 95-percent excise tax. The savings for employers and employees would be billions of dollars a year.
We don't have to stop there. My plan expands Medicare by adding dental, vision, and hearing, which would make a world of difference for millions of people.
We can take some of that savings created when Medicare is no longer forced to overpay prescription drugs and use it to pay for these additional benefits and reduce premiums, improve access for people with coverage on Medicaid and the Affordable Care Act.
You know, at the same time, we can invest in medical breakthroughs that will also reduce the costs and save lives. Right now, when Americans overpay for prescription drugs, too many pharmaceutical companies don't use the profit nearly enough to innovate or research. Too many companies use it to buy back their own stock, inflate their worth, drive up CEO salaries and compensation, and find ways to box out the competition.
In fact, according to one study, from 2016 to 2020, pharmaceutical companies spent $577 billion in stock buybacks and dividends, $56 billion more than what they spent on all research and development over that same period of time.
Look, folks, they should be able to make a significant progress—profit, but why should we be paying two or three times what every other country in the world is paying for a similar drug? There's so much we can do.
For example, at the Defense Department—for those of you who cover the Defense area—there's something called the DARPA, the Defense Advanced Research Project Agency, set up exclusively within the Defense Department to seek out the cutting-edge research protects that enhance our national security. An outfit that came up with the internet, GPS, and a lot of stealth technology—a lot of things.
I'm proposing we do a similar thing. I propose we spend $6.5 billion for a similar agency within the National Institute of Health—the NIH—called Advanced Research Project Agency, ARPA-H—like DARPA—to help speed cutting-edge research on how to detect, treat, and cure diseases like Alzheimer's, diabetes, and cancer.
It's personal to so many people out there, and we can do this. I'm not criticizing companies that aren't prepared to spend billions of dollars on certain projects to research. I get it. But if they're not, we should, to make sure the American—Americans are covered.
And here's one other big thing that will help millions of Americans afford their prescription drugs: getting them affordable health insurance. If anyone is worried about getting health insurance during the pandemic, there's help today. For those who get their insurance through the Affordable Care Act, we're covering more people, with better benefits, and with the premiums 40-percent lower.
That means the average premium has been cut by—from $104 a month to $62 a month. Sixty-two dollars a month for quality health insurance that covers doctors visits, hospital care, and prescription drugs. In fact, one-third of the consumers are buying plans through the Affordable Care Act for less than $10 a month.
Earlier this week, I announced that more than two-million-five-hundred-thousand Americans have signed up for coverage under the Affordable Care Act since I called for the special enrollment period during this pandemic. Folks, if you don't have insurance, you can still sign up under the Affordable Care Act through Sunday, August the 15th. Just go to healthcare.gov today, and get covered.
To all those folks expressing concern about rising costs for families, I urge you to support these basic reforms that will allow drug companies to still make billions of dollars, as they have a right to do, but will address one of the largest out-of-pocket expenses that families face: prescription drugs. We can do this.
Let me close with this: I've long said health care should be a right, not a privilege in this country. With my Build Back Better Plan, we have an opportunity to come together and get us even closer to that reality.
And the American people support it by overwhelming bipartisan margins. This isn't a partisan issue. Alzheimer's, diabetes, cancer, they don't care if you're a Democrat or Republican. This is about whether or not you and your loved ones can afford prescription drugs you need.
I look forward to Congress getting this done. And there's another area—this is another area where you can come together and make a difference in people's lives.
Thank you, may God bless you, may God protect our troops. Thank you.
Q. Mr. President—[inaudible]——
[At this point, several reporters began asking questions at once.]
Q. Mr. President, is Afghanistan lost? Is Afghanistan lost?
Q. Mr. President, are you planning to evacuate Americans from the Embassy?
NOTE: The President spoke at 1:27 p.m. in the East Room at the White House. In his remarks, he referred to Denver, CO, resident Gail DeVore and her husband Michael Raizen. He also referred to his brothers James B. and Francis W. Biden and sister Valerie Biden Owens.
* White House correction.
Joseph R. Biden, Remarks on Prescription Drug Prices Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/352136