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State of the Union 2024: Biden highlights drug prices, IVF, cancer research and more

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President Biden outlined some healthcare priorities in his annual address to Congress, including lower prescription costs and expanding research.

Speaking to Americans as he vies for a second term, President Biden highlighted some key healthcare priorities in his State of the Union address Thursday night.

Image credit: White House photo, by Adam Schultz

President Biden, shown in a February photo, referenced several healthcare priorities during the State of the Union address Thursday night.

The president pointed to the high costs of prescription drugs, and made a pitch to lower prices.

“Americans pay more for prescription drugs than anywhere else,” Biden said.

Biden called on Congress to place a $2,000 cap on out-of-pocket prescription drug costs to all Americans with private insurance. In 2025, a $2,000 cap is slated to take effect for seniors.

“I want to cap prescription drug costs at $2,000 a year for everyone,” Biden said.

The president also said he wants to expand the list of drugs for price negotiations under Medicare. Last August, the Biden administration unveiled the 10 drugs subject to price negotiations through Medicare, including common treatments for diabetes, heart failure, and other common conditions.

The president is hoping to eventually raise the number of negotiated drugs from 20 per year to 50 per year.

“This year Medicare is negotiating lower prices for some of the costliest drugs on the market that treat everything from heart disease to arthritis,” Biden said. “Now it’s time to go further and give Medicare the power to negotiate lower prices for 500 drugs over the next decade.”

Biden said it “will not only save lives it will save taxpayers another $200 billion.”

The president also reiterated a priority from a year ago, when he said he wants to cap the cost of insulin for all Americans at $35 per month.

Negotiations for drug prices with pharmaceutical companies have begun, Reuters reported. The negotiated prices are slated to take effect in 2026. Drug companies have filed legal challenges to the administration’s program.

Protecting IVF

Early in the speech, Biden referenced the controversy over IVF treatments in Alabama, where hospitals and clinics paused IVF treatments after a state court ruling that says embryos have the same legal protections as children. In the wake of a massive outcry, Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey signed legislation Wednesday giving immunity to IVF providers.

Still, the Alabama controversy has spurred lawmakers to look at national protections. The White House guest list included Latorya Beasley and her husband, who had their first child through IVF and had an embryo transfer canceled after the court ruling. 

““She was told her dream would have to wait,” Biden said.

The president urged Congress to stand up for families who use IVF.

“Guarantee the right to IVF. Guarantee it nationwide,” Biden said.

Cancer moonshot

As he has in previous addresses to Congress, Biden again referenced his “cancer moonshot,” a key component of his healthcare agenda. The president has set a goal of ending cancer, or making it a manageable condition.

The Biden administration has created a new research agency designed to create breakthroughs in cancer and other diseases: the Advanced Research Projects Agency for Health, also known as ARPA-H. The agency has been directed to finance high-risk, high-reward studies that could lead to cures.

“We owe it to ourselves to keep supporting our new health research agency called ARPA-H and remind us that we can do big things like end cancer as we know it, and we will,” Biden said.

The president also noted a White House investment of $100 million for women’s health research. “Women are more than half of our population but research on women’s health has always been underfunded,” Biden said.

The White House said one of the guests at the State of the Union was Kris Blackley of South Carolina, an oncology nurse for the Atrium Health Levine Cancer Institute, part of Advocate Health.

Abortion and AI

Biden also pointed to Kate Cox, who attended the State of the Union. Cox gained national attention when she fought to receive an abortion after doctors told her that without the procedure, she would face serious complications and may be unable to have other children. She eventually had to travel out of Texas to get the procedure.

“What her family has gone through should never have happened as well. But it is happening to so many others,” Biden said.

In the wake of the Supreme Court ruling that left abortion to be decided on the state level, doctors and healthcare leaders have criticized laws that they say stymie efforts to provide emergency care or procedures to protect patients.

Biden reiterated that if Americans elect a Congress that supports abortion rights, he’d work to make Roe v. Wade “the law of the land again.” And he said he wanted to “restore the right to choose.”

The president also briefly mentioned artificial intelligence toward the end of his speech, simply saying, “Harness the promise of AI and protect us from its peril.”

Biden issued an executive order on AI in healthcare in December, including grants for research and a process to take reports of improper practices.

Health leaders have touted the promise of AI to dramatically change healthcare, but many have called for guide rails to use AI responsibly.

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