In his second State of the Union Address, President Biden outlined the accomplishments of the last two years and called on Congress to “finish the job,” demonstrating his continued commitment to increasing access to affordable health care, stopping corporate profiteering and making our tax system more fair.
President Biden highlighted the many healthcare successes of the last year, including lower drug prices in Medicare, capping out of pocket costs in Medicare for the first time, and lowering the cost of premiums for millions of people who get coverage through the Affordable Care Act. He also reminded Americans that drug corporations in Medicare can no longer raise prices faster than inflation, which they have done for over a decade, without facing penalties.
Republicans have already filed legislation to repeal the Inflation Reduction Act, the law that makes these health care improvements. President Biden affirmed that he would veto any repeal bill or any effort to raise prices on prescriptions that comes across his desk in the next two years. This is an important commitment since the drug corporations have no plans to give up on inflated profits: they are already planning lawsuits to delay and derail the new law.
The President is right that we still need to finish the job. A universal insulin cap that would cap the cost of insulin at $35 a month for everyone will help people like Denise Marrero, a third-generation diabetic. While her father’s insulin costs have been capped through Medicare, she and others in her family are still paying sky-high prices for their medication because the reforms apply only to Medicare enrollees.
The reforms contained in the Inflation Reduction Act must be expanded to include people with private insurance and uninsured people, including both the price reforms that stop drug corporations from overcharging–like the inflationary caps and negotiated prices–and cost reforms like insulin and other out-of-pockets caps that limit what people can be asked to pay for medicine.
The real issue here is whether Congress will take bipartisan action to limit the monopoly power that drug corporations have over prices. That monopoly control enables Big Pharma to charge patients anything they want, to launch new drugs at unattainable prices, and to raise prices anytime they feel like it. Already in 2023, drug corporations have raised the price of over 1000 drugs. Without further action from Congress, drug corporations will continue to overcharge and boost their profits while millions of people go into debt and suffer ill health because they can’t afford the medicine they need.
The President also pointed out in his address that there are millions of Americans that currently have no access to insurance because of states’ refusal to expand Medicaid. For these people, broader Congressional action is needed to ensure they have access to affordable care. This is especially true given that millions more could be facing the same situation later this year when the Public Health Emergency expires, stripping coverage from millions who gained it during the pandemic and swelling the ranks of newly uninsured.
While the President rightly confronted the GOP about their threats to Medicare and Social Security, if history is any teacher, Medicaid is the program that faces the most substantial threat from Republicans’ assault on spending. Medicaid is a critical resource for patients of all ages—it is the main funding source for long-term care for seniors, for behavior and mental health services, for low-income people’s insurance, and for children. In most states, half of all births are paid for by Medicaid and large numbers of children get healthcare through Medicaid and its counterpart, the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP).
The President already proposed a solution to any potential cuts in his State of the Union: taxing billionaires and the ultra wealthy. The President suggested that a major part of the nation’s unfinished business is to pass a Billionaires Minimum Income Tax (BMIT) and close loopholes that encourage corporations to spend money on stock buybacks that boost returns for their shareholders instead of contributing more in taxes to the economy. The nation’s 720 billionaires currently pay lower tax rates than most middle class workers like firefighters and teachers because of our two-tiered tax system that treats wealth generated from stocks and financial assets differently than income derived from work. President Biden has continually called to level the playing field by taxing work like wealth through measures like the BMIT that make the tax system more fair and generate billions in new revenue to support the economy.
Requiring the ultra rich to pay what they owe is the key to finishing the job of ensuring that everyone in America has access to quality, affordable health coverage– including affordable prescriptions–that we can count on when we need it.
HCAN applauds the President’s comments and will work with our national network of allies and partners to finish the important work of guaranteeing healthcare for all.