Dec 6, 2021
Joe Biden Prescription Drug Prices Speech Briefing Transcript
President Joe Biden spoke about the Build Back Better agenda and prescription drug prices on December 6, 2021. Read the transcript of the press conference speech here.
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Mr. President, thank you so much for having me here today. I’m so honored to be here to talk about an issue that is deeply personal to me, addressing the high cost of insulin and to tell my story. Imagine every day having to ask questions like, “Should I pay my rent or should I risk death by forgoing my medication? Should I buy groceries or my insulin and other necessary supplies related to diabetes?”I had to make this choice relentlessly without relief every day.
In 2012, at the age of 21, I was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes; due to unforeseen circumstances, there came a time where I could no longer afford my insulin. I was forced to ration my supply of drug that is as vital to me as water. I felt myself growing weaker and weaker each day. I could actually feel myself slowly dying. One day I was rushed to the hospital where they told me I was in diabetic ketoacidosis, a life-threatening and potentially deadly complication of my illness.
I slipped into a diabetic coma and I could have died. This was a terrifying incident. I was ashamed that I couldn’t afford my lifesaving medication. I didn’t want to ask for help. I shouldn’t have to ask for help. Insulin and healthcare should be affordable. Ever since my diagnosis, the cost of my diabetic medicine has dictated everything from what kind of job I can take, whether I can set aside some money for savings.
Thankfully, I am now able to afford my insulin through my employer benefits. I’m fortunate, but I know there are thousands of people facing the struggle. The reality is that one in four patients with diabetes has had to ration insulin due to high drug pricing. President Biden gets it. He has a plan to not only save me and millions of people like me money, but also to give us the certainty, the ability to control our health without our health controlling us.
For me, President Biden’s Build Back Better Act would mean peace of mind. I know how fast our circumstances in life can change in addition to my illness. I am plagued with the fear that I may not be able to afford my insulin again. I want to see a future where young people like me don’t have our lives revolve around our prescription drugs. And we don’t have to make career and life choices around insurance benefits. That’s why I’m so grateful for President Biden’s leadership on tackling the high cost of prescription drugs, particularly insulin. And now it’s my honor to introduce my new friend, President Joe Biden. Thank you.
President Joe Biden: (03:23)
Aisha, thank you very much. Your story is important and for everyone to hear, and thank God you’re with us today. Today I’d like to talk about how we’re going to help millions of Americans protect and preserve their health, and live with the dignity of knowing that they can care for themselves and their loved ones all by making the cost of prescription drugs much more reasonable. At the outset, I want to be clear. We acknowledge the groundbreaking life-saving work that many pharmaceutical companies are doing. Look no further than the vaccines and the treatments they’re manufacturing and delivering that are helping fight this pandemic.
President Joe Biden: (04:05)
Our miraculous therapies have in some cases turned diseases that were once considered death sentences into treatable conditions, but we can make a distinction between developing those breakthroughs and jacking up prices on a range of medicines which have been on the market for years without making a substance and substantive change in the medication itself, the medicine itself.
President Joe Biden: (04:31)
Here in America, it will not surprise you to know that we pay the highest prescription drug prices of any developed nation in the world. Let me say that again. We pay the highest, highest prescription drug prices of any developed nation in the world. That may surprise you. It may surprise you that we pay about two to three times what other countries paid for the same drug. An example, one anti-cancer drug cost $14,000 in the United States. That same exact drug by the same manufacturer costs $6,000 in France.
President Joe Biden: (05:09)
Today, one in four Americans who take prescription drugs struggle to afford them. Nearly 30%, nearly 30% of these patients have skipped doses of essential drugs that they have to take. Others have simply not fulfilled the prescription, tried to use an over-the-counter drug and cut pills in half because they can’t afford the cost of their prescription. You know, even if you think this doesn’t affect you, it does. Everyone has less money in their pockets because high drug costs make health insurance expensive for everyone.
President Joe Biden: (05:44)
There aren’t a lot of things that almost every American can agree on, but I think it’s safe to say that all of us, all of us, whatever our background, our age, where we live, we can agree the prescription drugs are outrageously expensive in this country. It doesn’t need to be that way. Under my Build Back Better bill, which has passed the House of Representatives, it won’t be the same way.
President Joe Biden: (06:09)
One of the most egregious examples of what’s happening with drug prices regarding the treatment of diabetes is the cost of insulin, a drug that people with Type 1 diabetes need to take throughout their lives to control their diabetes and stay alive. It’s almost exactly 100 years ago, but a 14-year-old boy in Canada dying of diabetes became the first person to receive an injection of insulin. Today, one bottle of this life-saving liquid costs less than $10 to manufacture, but in certain types of insulin, prices increased by 15% or more each year for the past decade.
President Joe Biden: (06:49)
Depending on the nature of someone’s Type 1 diabetes, the average sticker price for a month supply of insulin is about $375. But some people, it can be as high as $1,000 a month because they need to take more. I just met with two lovely women we see in front of me today here. Sarah Skipper was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes at age five. She has a sister Shelby who was diagnosed at age eight. She told me that affording insulin has been the challenge of her and her family’s entire life. Sometimes she and her sister ration doses.
President Joe Biden: (07:28)
In 2018, Sarah was no longer covered by her parents’ policy. Although she was working two jobs, she hadn’t met her healthcare plan’s deductible and insulin was about $1,000 a month supply for her. So she started sharing her sister’s insulin from the same vial. At one point because Shelby thought Sarah had taken her dose, that Shelby cut a dose in half because the bottle was sitting there and it would look like it was half empty. Is that correct? And at that time she thought, “Well, I guess what?” She hadn’t taken it yet.
President Joe Biden: (08:09)
Shelby had been hospitalized as a consequence for four days, working two jobs, sharing insulin from the same vial in America. Shame on us as a nation that we can’t do better than this. Sarah’s about to start a new job and doesn’t yet know what the insulin will cost. Sarah said, it’s a quote. “I wish I could make a decision that didn’t include diabetes.” She shouldn’t have to ask such a question.
President Joe Biden: (08:37)
You know, I think about what just happened with Aisha who’s diagnosed with diabetes three days before her 21st birthday, having to choose between rent and groceries and medication. Quote, “Relentlessly without relief every day” was your quote to me. Having to ration her supply and feeling herself, as she says, “Slowly dying.” She ended up in a coma. Think about that. The difference between nearly dying and thriving is the cost of one drug. Sarah and Aisha are far, far from being alone.
President Joe Biden: (09:18)
It’s estimated that 34 million Americans, 10% of the population have diabetes, including more than 1.5 million who have Type 1 diabetes requiring daily doses of insulin that’s in varying quantities. Remember all of stress, hardship, suffering, and sacrifice is due to a drug that costs just a few bucks to make. One study found that Americans pay 10 times as much as other countries for insulin. These price increases are about companies looking to maximize profits and nobody is standing up for the patients, nobody with the power to do something about it.
President Joe Biden: (10:00)
It’s enough, enough. Nobody has held the manufacturers accountable until now. My Build Back Better bill takes three key steps to lower the cost for families dealing with diabetes. First, we’re going to cap cost share for insulin at $35 per month. That means you can’t get charged more than 35 bucks at a pharmacy counter for your insulin. That’s across the board. Whether you get health insurance through private policy, the Affordable Care Act Marketplace or through Medicaid, nobody is going to pay more than $35 each month for insulin.
President Joe Biden: (10:42)
Second, for people who don’t have health insurance, we’re helping you get insurance. That way, people with diabetes can get protected with that $35 copay cap. People who are uninsured today can visit healthcare.gov to check out the options. In many cases, people can get a full healthcare plan, including coverage for insulin and other prescription drugs, doctor visits and hospitalizations for less than $10 a month if you sign up for the plan. If you live in a state that has refused to expand Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act, my Build Back Better bill is going to fix that as well. These changes are going to ensure access to affordable coverage for millions more Americans, and help more people with diabetes get coverage they desperately need.
President Joe Biden: (11:32)
Third, we’re going to end the days when drug companies can increase their prices with no oversight and no accountability. Going forward, drug companies that increase the prices faster than inflation are going to face a steep excise tax. In other words, we’re saying to drug companies if you’re finally doing it because to be accountable when your prices to the American people go up, you’re going to be accountable. This is important not only from a health standpoint, but the standpoint of personal dignity.
President Joe Biden: (12:07)
Imagine if you’re a parent of one of the roughly 200,000 young people in this country that suffer from Type 1 diabetes. Imagine if you can’t afford their insulin, it’s not only a risk to your child’s life, it deprives you of your dignity. Just imagine as a parent having a child with Type 1 diabetes and not a damn thing you can do about making sure they have it. You sold what you could sold. You don’t have the money to get it done.
President Joe Biden: (12:38)
Well, my plan addresses an additional fear patients face, which is that when their children are starting their careers and are no longer eligible on their parents’ healthcare plan, they’ll be able to get insulin that they need. Outrageous costs affecting everyone across the board spanning every kind of conditioned disease. I remember what it was like from my mom when she got older and moved in with us. Her prescription drugs were thousands of dollars on a monthly basis.
President Joe Biden: (13:09)
Fortunately, I had three other siblings and we collectively had the means to chip in so she didn’t have to exhaust all of her savings and sell whatever she had left to make sure she could get her drug costs covered. So I’m committed, I’m committed to using every tool I have to lower prescription drug costs for Americans consistent with the drug companies getting a fair return on their investment. To really solve this problem, we need the Senate to follow the House of Representatives lead and pass my Build Back Better bill.
President Joe Biden: (13:40)
In addition to the specific progress that the Build Back Better bill is going to make for families facing diabetes. It’ll also take the additional step of lowering drug costs for people on Medicare. Right now, the only thing Medicare is not allowed to negotiate. They can negotiate the cost of doctors visits, hospitalization and all the rest. The one thing they can’t as a matter of law, they’re not allowed to negotiate the price for prescription drugs. For everything else, doctors visits, crutches, they can negotiate. My plan gets rid of that prohibition.
President Joe Biden: (14:17)
What I’m proposing is that we negotiate a fair price, one that reflects the cost of research and development, a need for significant progress. Excuse me, a need for significant profit, but that is still affordable to consumers. Right now, drug companies will set the price at whatever the market will bear. My plan also caps the amount that seniors on Medicare have to spend on prescription drugs each year to know more than $2,000 per year, with Medicaid and drug companies picking up the rest of the cost. And again, our plan says that any drug company can only raise prices based on the rate of inflation and caps insulin cost sharing at $35 a month.
President Joe Biden: (15:00)
So let me close with this. I’ve long said healthcare should be a right, not a privilege in this country. And the women I’ve met with today and millions like them are the reason why. People for whom cost of one drug is the difference between hope and fear, life and death, dignity and dependence. We’re closer than ever to passing my Build Back Better bill and providing people suffering from diabetes and so many other diseases the medicines they need and the dignity they deserve being able to afford them.
President Joe Biden: (15:33)
This is not a partisan issue. Diabetes, Alzheimer’s, cancer, so many other diseases. They don’t care if you’re a Democrat or Republican. It’s not about whether or not your loved ones can afford a prescription drug you need. So we need Congress to finish the job, to come together and make the difference in people’s lives. I want to thank both the guests here today for being so straightforward with me. We had a good conversation in the office before coming over here. I admire you both. I admire you both.
President Joe Biden: (16:06)
And as my grandpop used to say, “With the grace of God and the goodwill of the neighbors, we’re going to get this done.” So you don’t have to worry every single day about what you’re going to be able to do. God bless you and God protect our troops. Thank you so much.
Speaker 3: (16:23)
Speaker 3: (16:23)
Do you expect to pass Build Back Better by Christmas, Mr. President?
President Joe Biden: (16:24)
As early as we can get it. I want to get it done, no matter how long it takes.