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In State of the Union, Biden highlights drug prices, cancer, and affordable care


The president wants to lower prescription drug costs for more Americans. He also hailed the progress on the COVID-19 pandemic and the approaching end of the public health emergency.

During his State of the Union address, President Biden repeatedly said he wanted to take care of unfinished business, and some of those key agenda items involved healthcare.

Referencing prescription drug prices, cancer, the COVID-19 pandemic, Biden outlined his accomplishments and ambitions to Congress and the American public.

Ahead of the speech, some White House officials also shed light on some of the administration’s efforts as Biden begins the second half of his term.

And as he said again and again that he wants to “finish the job,” Biden left little doubt that he will soon begin his campaign to seek another four years in the Oval Office.

Drug prices

Biden took aim at the high costs of prescription drugs.

“We pay more for prescription drugs than any major nation on Earth,” Biden said.

Biden touted the recent cap on insulin prices at $35 for seniors on Medicare. Echoing the theme of finishing the job, Biden said, “Let’s cap the cost of insulin at $35 a month for every American who needs it.”

“Big pharma is still going to do very well,” Biden said. “I promise you all.”

He also talked about wanting to offer other limits on prices for cancer drugs, similar to protections recently enacted for seniors.

“This law also caps out-of-pocket drug costs for seniors on Medicare at a maximum $2,000 per year when there are in fact many drugs, like expensive cancer drugs, that can cost up to $10,000, $12,000, and $14,000 a year,” Biden said.

The president offered a warning to House Republicans who have said they want to repeal the Inflation Reduction Act, which includes provisions to lower prescription drug prices for those on Medicare.

“Make no mistake, if you try to do anything to raise the cost of prescription drugs, I will veto it,” Biden said.

The law also allows, for the first time, Medicare to negotiate prescription drug prices, although negotiated prices won’t take effect until 2026. But Biden said that’s a key step to lowering both drug prices and the federal deficit.

Cancer moonshot

The president pushed for more funding for cancer research and made another pitch for his “cancer moonshot.” Biden has repeatedly said he wants to end cancer as we know it.

“Our goal is to cut the cancer death rate by at least 50% over the next 25 years,” Biden said. “Turn more cancers from death sentences into treatable diseases. And provide more support for patients and families.” (Read more about Biden's call to defeat cancer.)

COVID-19 pandemic

About 45 minutes into the speech, Biden talked about the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Let’s recognize how far we came against the pandemic,” Biden said.

Biden noted that “the virus is not gone,” but he hailed the fact that COVID-19 deaths have dropped by nearly 90%.

“We’ve saved millions of lives and opened our country back up,” Biden said. “And soon we’ll end the public health emergency. But we’ll remember the toll and pain that’s never going to go away.”

The White House has said the COVID-19 public health emergency will end on May 11. Some Republican lawmakers have called on Biden to end the emergency designation right now, but the White House has said an abrupt ending would block some Americans from getting healthcare and create chaos for hospitals and medical practices.

Lawmakers and the president extended key waivers on telehealth and hospital-at-home programs in the omnibus spending package through the end of 2024. Hospitals and healthcare advocates are pushing for permanent reforms. A bipartisan bill has emerged to expand telehealth access.

The Affordable Care Act

Biden cited the uptick in Americans who now receive health insurance under the Affordable Care Act.

“A record 16 million people are enrolled under the Affordable Care Act,” Biden said. “Thanks to the law I signed last year, millions are saving $800 a year on their premiums.”

But he noted that as the law is written, that benefit expires after 2025.

“Let’s finish the job, make those savings permanent, and expand coverage to those left off Medicaid,” Biden said.

Behavioral health, opioid use

Biden talked about the need to expand behavioral health services.

“Let's do more on mental health, especially for our children,” Biden said. “When millions of young people are struggling with bullying, violence, trauma, we owe them greater access to mental health care at school.”

Ahead of the speech, the American Psychiatric Association said it “applauds the continued emphasis on mental health in the Biden Administration’s Unity Agenda. While the nation faces the opioid epidemic, an ongoing crisis in youth mental health, and barriers to access, mental health is truly an issue where bipartisan progress can and must be made.”

Dr. Rahul Gupta, director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy, said in a briefing ahead of the State of the Union, “In the past year, we’ve lost more than 100,000 Americans to drug overdose or poisonings.  That’s an American dying every five minutes of every hour of every day.”

“We’re going to work to ensure that everyone who needs treatment for substance use disorder gets it, including people who are incarcerated and at higher risk for overdose death when they’re released,” Gupta said.

Biden also called on Congress to pass legislation “to stop Big Tech from collecting personal data on kids and teenagers online,” and to prohibit targeted advertising to children.

Abortion rights

Later in his speech, Biden referenced the Supreme Court decision last year that upended abortion rights.

He vowed he would never allow a nationwide abortion ban as president. “If Congress passes a national ban, I will veto it,” Biden said.

Biden said he and Vice President Kamala Harris “are doing everything we can” to protect access to reproductive healthcare and protect patients.

While many states protect abortion rights, 13 states have banned most abortions, with some limited exceptions, and another state, Georgia, prohibits abortions after about six weeks of pregnancy, according to The New York Times. Biden denounced states that are “enforcing extreme abortion bans.”

Hospitals and physicians have been wrestling with the implications of the Supreme Court ruling. In states that block abortions but allow exceptions for when the mother’s life is in danger, doctors and health systems have said the laws are too vague and leave it unclear when physicians can intervene to save patients and still comply with the law. Legal battles have continued over state abortion laws and emergency medical care.

With Republicans controlling the House of Representatives and Democrats holding the Senate, Biden won’t be able to secure approval for national measures to protect or expand abortion rights. Biden signed a memorandum in January to ensure access to mediation abortion.

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