WASHINGTON: President Joe Biden on Thursday (Aug 12) called on US lawmakers to enact legislation aimed at lowering drug prices, including allowing Medicare to negotiate drug prices and imposing penalties on drugmakers that hike prices faster than inflation.
The Democratic president's remarks laid out his vision to help reduce the costs for prescription medications as part of the Build Back Better agenda he is seeking to push through Congress as the nation continues to grapple with the COVID-19 pandemic.
Pharmaceutical manufacturers have earned high praise for quickly developing vaccines against the novel coronavirus. But the outbreak of the highly contagious disease, which upended the economy and has so far killed more than 617,000 people in the United States, also drew renewed attention to healthcare costs.
Biden on Thursday lauded drugmakers for their life-saving work developing the COVID-19 vaccines.
"But we can make a distinction between developing these breakthroughs and jacking up prices on a range of medications for a range of everyday diseases and conditions," he said in remarks at the White House.
Biden said US prescription drug costs were higher than any other nation in the world by two to three times.
Drugmakers, reeling from reduced doctor visits and demand for some drugs amid the pandemic, raised prices on more than 500 medicines, an analysis released in January showed.
After passing a US$1.9 trillion coronavirus-related bill in March, Democrats adopted a two-pronged strategy - a US$1 trillion hard infrastructure plan that passed the Senate this week and a forthcoming US$3.5 trillion spending measure for so-called human infrastructure.
That spending plan would expand Medicare to include dental, vision and hearing benefits as well as lower the eligibility age, among other healthcare, climate and childcare provisions. More than 61.2 million people have coverage under the Medicare health insurance program for the elderly and disabled, according to the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS).