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Biden, in preview of budget fight, hits GOP on health care

President accuses Republicans of seeking to cut health-care programs that help Americans

President Biden discusses prescription drug costs Wednesday at the University of Nevada at Las Vegas. (Leah Millis/Reuters)
5 min

LAS VEGAS — President Biden on Wednesday touted his administration’s policies on lowering the cost of prescription drugs and helping recipients of Medicare and Medicaid, programs that have become a major topic of debate as Republicans look for significant budget cuts to trim growing federal deficits.

Biden also ramped up his defense of the Affordable Care Act, pointing to the dozens of times Republicans have tried to repeal the signature law signed by President Barack Obama. His remarks put health care front-and-center at a time when Biden is widely expected to run for re-election with a message centered on pocketbook issues like health care.

“These MAGA Republicans, they’re different. They’re just different. They continue to be determined to repeal the Affordable Care Act,” the president said on a stage at the University of Nevada at Las Vegas. “If MAGA Republicans had their way, as many as 100 million people with preexisting conditions would lose their protection. That’s a fact.”

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Biden spoke on campus here with a group of medical professionals, dressed in lab coats and scrubs, standing on a platform to his right. He was surrounded by signs that read, “Lowering Costs for American Families.”

Before Biden’s remarks, the administration released data suggesting that seniors had benefited significantly from his efforts to cut the price of prescription drugs and eliminate out-of-pocket costs for many vaccines.

The report, from the Department of Health and Human Services, found that 3.4 million people with Medicare would have saved an average of nearly $70 on shingles, tetanus and other vaccines last year had the Inflation Reduction Act been in effect — a total savings of about $230 million.

Administration officials say those overall savings are likely to grow even more as the lower out-of-pocket costs encourage more people to get the vaccines.

“All Americans deserve a peace of mind that if illness strikes, they get the care they need and they can afford the care they need,” Biden said.

Republicans in recent days have painted a very different picture, saying Biden’s new budget would raise taxes and spending, and spur continued inflation, hurting Americans far more than it would help them.

“The president showed us where his priorities are, and they don’t align with ordinary Americans,” said Sen. Bill Cassidy (R-La.), the top Republican on the Senate Health Committee. “After reviewing this irresponsible document, it’s hard to call it a budget. America needs real leadership, not more irresponsible tax and spend delusion.”

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But Biden said his policies are helping Americans in numerous ways, including with an increase in funding for cancer research. The president’s son Beau died of brain cancer several years ago.

“More people die of heart disease than they do cancer, but cancer scares the living hell out of every single person,” Biden said. “Well, folks, you know, a lot of those drugs now that are available that are very helpful.”

The administration also announced initial guidance on how its prescription drug negotiation process will work under the Inflation Reduction Act, as the Medicare program prepares to announce 10 drugs it has selected for those negotiations.

It was Biden’s latest attempt to argue the benefits of that law, which many Republicans say they want to repeal.

As part of its strategy is to showcase the gains to individual states, the administration released a state-by-state breakdown of how many residents received vaccines under Medicare Part D in 2021. It included about 403,000 people in California, 227,000 in Florida, and 204,000 in Texas.

“All of them paid something for those vaccines,” Xavier Becerra, the Secretary of Health and Human Services, told reporters. “All of them today would not have to pay anything for those vaccines.”

The law also requires drug companies to pay rebates to Medicare if they raise their prices faster than inflation, and it caps the cost of insulin at $35 per month for Medicare recipients.

“These kinds of savings will give people a little bit more breathing room, more comfort as they decide to go to the grocery store to buy their food, more ability to pay their rent, or maybe it's just to do something decent for their grandkids,” Becerra said.

Biden’s appearance concluded a three-day West Coast trip that sometimes had the feel of a campaign swing, including two fundraisers that raised $1 million each.

“We pay the highest drug prices of any advanced nation in the world — the highest in the world,” Biden said during a fundraiser in Las Vegas on Tuesday night. “I’m not joking. You can buy whatever drug you need that’s consequential. You can go to Spain, France. You can get — Canada — get it a hell of a lot cheaper.”

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He said the Inflation Reduction Act was aimed at changing that. “Not only is it going to save billions of dollars in prescription drug bills for people, but it’s going to reduce the federal deficit by $180 billion this year” he said. “Because that’s $180 billion less that Medicare has to pay out.”

Biden was introduced during the event here by David Berman, a Medicare beneficiary with insulin-dependent Type 2 diabetes. He began by removing his injection pens, displaying them to show the crowd what he needs to stay alive. He said that his monthly costs have dropped by 50 percent because of Biden’s policies.

“And I know that countless Americans saw their costs drop even more. That’s real money in my pocket, folks,” he said. “President Biden lowered the cost of insulin and he has rolled up his sleeves to work on lowering drug costs across the board.”