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Biden Swipes at Big Pharma, Calls for 'Thinking Big' About Cancer Moonshot, in State of the Union

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In calling for extending the $35 cap on insulin prices to people with private insurance, the president spoke about big pharma making record profits.

President Joe Biden focused on infrastructure, supporting the middle class, protecting Medicare and Social Security and what he called a “blue-collar blueprint to rebuild America” in his 1-hour and 13-minute State of the Union speech last night. In the longest section of the speech devoted to healthcare, which occurred at about the halfway point, he called for expanding the $35 cap on insulin prices and railed against profits made by “big pharma.”

Insulin costs $13 a vial to produce, he told senators, congressmen and top government officials and a television audience. “But big pharma has been unfairly charging people hundreds of dollars, $400 to $500 a month, making record profits. Not anymore. Not anymore.”

Repeating “let’s finish the job,” which may become a campaign slogan, Biden added, “Let’s finish the job finish the job time this time. Let’s cap the cost of insulin at $35.”

“Folks, big pharma is still going to do very well. I promise you all. I promise, they will do very well,” he said.

Stephen J. Ubl, the president and CEO of the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America (PhRMA), the pharmaceutical’s lobbying organization, issued a statement on Twitter describing the insulin cap as a “band-aid on a broken system that is forcing people to pay more for medicines than health insurers and pharmacy benefit managers pay.”

Biden also trumpeted the healthcare provisions of the Inflation Reduction Act that he signed into law last year. The act empowers Centers of Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) to negotiate Medicare drug prices and caps Part D out-of-pocket costs at $2,000 a year in 2025.

“Bringing down prescription drugs prices doesn’t just save seniors money. It cuts the federal deficit by billions of dollars. By hundreds of billions of dollars,” said Biden, noting that some Republicans have spoken about repealing the Inflation Reduction Act, although Biden made a point of mentioning that is not the party’s official position.

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

Biden touched on COVID-19 briefly in the opening minutes of the speech (“Today Covid no longer control our lives”) and then returned to the same idea about 50 minutes later.

“While the virus is not gone, thanks to the resilience of the American and the ingenuity of medicine, we have broken the Covid grip on us,” he said.

Deaths from the disease are down 90%, Biden said, and he mentioned the end of public health emergency, which is scheduled to happen May, according to the administration’s current plans.

But Biden also referenced the grief caused by what he said is more than a million deaths from COVID-19 and called for vigilance,

“We still need to monitor new variants and support for new vaccines and treatments. So Congress needs to fund these efforts and keep America safe.”

In the final part of the speech, Biden also spoke about his cancer moonshoot effort, which he said he reignited last year with First Lady Jill Biden. He mentioned the goal of reducing cancer death rates by at least 50% in the next 25 years and “turn more cancers from death sentences to treatable diseases” and provide more support for patients and families. He invoked former President George W. Bush’s President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR), a global effort to combat HIV/AIDS and described it as a “huge success.”

“We thought big, we thought large, we moved,” Biden said as both Republicans and Democrats stood up and applauded. “I believe we can do the same thing with cancer.”

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