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Health Care Highlights From Biden’s State of the Union

March 11, 2024

President Joe Biden’s fourth State of the Union address last night at the Capitol touched on topics as diverse as the loneliness epidemic, the invasion of Ukraine, and union jobs. On the health care front, Biden focused his comments on prescription drug pricing and access to health insurance coverage.

Prescription Drug Costs
Prohibitive costs to Medicare recipients for their medications and negotiations about drug pricing have both been hot topics in recent months. Today, 20 percent of seniors on Medicare report purposely rationing doses of their prescription drugs because of high cost concerns. One study suggests that 91 percent of voters support lowering costs for prescription medications.

“Americans pay more for prescription drugs than anywhere in the world,” Biden said to those gathered in the House chamber. “It’s wrong, and I’m ending it.”

He pointed to some of the changes that are coming or already underway regarding medication prices following the 2022 passage of the Inflation Reduction Act. He cited, for example, the drop in cost for Medicare recipients’ insulin supplies, for which insurers can no longer charge more than $35 a month. Next year, senior Medicare enrollees will see a $2,000 cap on their yearly out-of-pocket prescription costs. “Now,” he said, “I want to cap prescription drug costs at $,2000 a year for everyone.”

The negotiation process for lowering prices of 20 high-cost drugs has also begun. In his speech, Biden pushed for furthering negotiating power with Medicare, recommending negotiations tackle unaffordable prices for 500 different drugs over the next 10 years.

Affordable Care Act
Biden also pledged to protect the Affordable Care Act (ACA). In past statements, he has cited that 9 million more Americans have obtained health insurance coverage under the ACA since he became President. During the State of the Union, he reported that more than 100 million Americans “can no longer be denied health insurance because of pre-existing conditions.”

He then went on to slam the GOP’s proposals to repeal the ACA. “I’m not going to let that happen,” he said. “I’m not only saving it; I’m expanding it.”

Referring to the premium tax credits linked to the ACA that are on track to expire in 2025, Biden also said he will seek to make the average of $800 in annual savings per person permanent.

Supporting Caregivers and Social Security
Elder care and Social Security were also on Biden’s agenda, as he urged lawmakers to “stand up for seniors.”

For one, Biden voiced support for paid leave for family caregivers. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, about three-quarters of employees in the private sector do not get access to paid family leave. As of 2020, more than 53 million people in the United States, or about one in every five Americans, were serving as unpaid family caregivers. In past budget proposals, he has sought to expand home care services as well.

Vowing to defend against cuts to Social Security as well as Medicare, Biden said he would “make the wealthy pay their fair share.”

Going Forward
Other proposals from the Biden administration remain ongoing topics of discussion in Congress. For one, newly introduced legislation seeks to block Biden’s minimum staffing mandate for nursing homes. The mandate is seeking to address the drastic shortage in nursing home and assisted living facility staff nationwide.