Biden makes lower drug prices a centerpiece of his 2024 campaign

As he heads into a re-election campaign next year, President Biden is betting that his success in promoting policies aimed at reducing health care costs for millions of Americans will be rewarded by voters at the polls.

In speech after speech, Biden talks about limiting the cost of insulin to $35, imposing new limits on medical expenses for the elderly, making some vaccines free and pushing to reduce the prices of some of the world’s most expensive drugs.

At the White House, Biden and his advisers have already begun to elevate the issue as a centerpiece of their agenda. And at his campaign headquarters in Wilmington, Delaware, aides craft television ads, talking points and speeches arguing that Biden’s push to cut health care costs is in stark contrast to that of his Republican opponents.

The president will have some very strong arguments to make, said Senator Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota, a member of the advisory board for the president’s national campaign. Not only will people want to keep the benefits they’ve gained, they’ll also want to get the benefits that are coming their way.

On Tuesday, the White House announced that the Biden administration will negotiate on behalf of Medicare beneficiaries lower prices for 10 popular and expensive drugs used to treat diabetes, heart disease and other chronic illnesses.

The measure was made possible thanks to the passage last year of the Biden Inflation Reduction Act, which for the first time allows Medicare to negotiate prices of drugs for the elderly, a change that the pharmaceutical industry has opposed for decades.

Republicans are also generally opposed to giving the government the right to negotiate drug prices. But candidates for the Republican presidential nomination have said little about the cost of drugs, focusing instead on abortion, transgender medical issues and Covid lockdowns.

In his speeches, Biden criticizes the industry and his Republican opponents in Congress, both of whom voted against the law that included prescription drug provisions. Aides say it’s an effective message.

Today is the start of a new deal for patients, where Big Pharma doesn’t just get a blank check at its expense, the president said at a White House event celebrating the changeover.

Since signing the law a year ago, Biden has repeatedly called it one of his proudest legislative victories. But his approval numbers have barely changed. And while polls show that the new policy is very popular with Americans who are in the know, they also suggest that far fewer people are even aware that the change has been made.

This is most likely because prices for just the first handful of drugs aren’t set to actually drop until 2026 at the earliest, assuming Mr. Biden’s program survives the legal challenges. Pharmaceutical companies have filed several lawsuits against the administration alleging that the law is unconstitutional. Court proceedings can drag on for years.

In its lawsuit against the administration, Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America, an industry trade group, called the negotiated pricing plan a government mandate disguised as negotiation.

Even if Biden’s plan takes effect, older adults who choose to ration their medications will have to continue to do so for more than a year after the 2024 presidential election.

Danny Cottrell, 67, a pharmacist who owns his group of retail pharmacies in Brewton, Alabama, said he regularly counseled his Medicare patients on the ins and outs of the government’s prescription program. He welcomed Biden’s changes but said it would be up to people like him to explain the complicated process.

I need to remind you that this will not start until 2026, Cottrell said. And also remind them that this will change several times by then.

Neera Tanden, Biden’s top domestic policy adviser, said the White House is confident the plan will survive legal challenges.

It is absurd to argue that negotiation is unconstitutional, she said in an interview. There is nothing in the Constitution that says that Medicare drug price negotiation is unconstitutional.

But more broadly, Tanden said she and the president’s other West Wing advisers were determined to make pushing for lower health care costs a central part of Biden’s message to Americans.

And this coming September, a few weeks before Election Day, the administration will announce the results of the year-long negotiations on the first 10 drugs.

We plan to work extensively to really remind people of this issue, Ms. Tanden said.

For the people leading Biden’s re-election campaign, the political benefits of focusing on reducing health care costs are clear.

Some polls show that 80 percent of Americans support giving the government the ability to negotiate lower Medicare prices, as it already does for veterans and the military.

Campaign aides said talking about lower drug costs or limits on out-of-pocket medical expenses is a way to help Biden gain support among seniors, who traditionally vote Republican in greater numbers. This is especially important in swing states like Michigan, Arizona, Georgia and Ohio, where increasing support among older adults will be critical in close races.

The campaign’s first television spots included numerous references to the president’s efforts to reduce health care costs. A campaign spokesperson said the health care issue would be a central feature of a $25 million ad campaign centered on what the president has done to reduce global costs and achieve economic progress.

Kate Bedingfield, who served as Biden’s director of communications during the first two years of his presidency, said the issue had political benefits even when it came to appealing to people who don’t directly benefit from specific cost reductions.

This is in stark contrast to the Republicans, who have stood in the way and continue to stand in the way of doing more on this issue, she said.

Rep. Michael C. Burgess, a Texas Republican and physician, said Biden’s drug price talks were similar to government-imposed price controls that would lead to drug shortages.

This administration’s approach goes beyond negotiation, he said in a statement. Instead, it holds pharmaceutical companies hostage, putting their future innovation and the well-being of American patients at risk.

Biden’s campaign aides said a debate with Republicans over the cost of health care was something they were looking forward to.

MAGA Republicans running for president want to repeal the Inflation Reduction Act, which would deliver a massive victory for big pharma and increase costs for the American people, said Julie Chvez Rodríguez, the president’s campaign manager, referring to Republicans loyal to former President Donald J. Trump.

She said the choice in the election was between Biden and a list of candidates focused on extreme policies that put their wealthy donors first.

Robert Jimison contributed reports.

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