Pushing Build Back Better Plan, Biden Calls for Lower Drug Prices
Health Care

Pushing Build Back Better Plan, Biden Calls for Lower Drug Prices


Looking to drum up support for his sweeping social investment plan, President Joe Biden on Monday called on lawmakers to strike a blow against high drug prices by passing the Build Back Better Act, the roughly $1.7 trillion spending package that includes provisions to reduce the cost of some prescription medications.

“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 ... can agree that prescription drugs are outrageously expensive in this country,” Biden said at the White House. “Shame on us as a nation if we can’t do better than this,” he added.

Making his pitch for his spending plan, Biden said, “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.”

The Build Back Better plan would empower Medicare to negotiate lower prices for some of its costliest drugs, and cap out-of-pocket spending on drugs at $2,000 per year for those in the universal health plan for those 65 and older. It would also cap out-of-pocket expenses for insulin at $35 per month for those covered by Medicare or private insurance plans, though the provision would not take full effect until 2023.

The plan in the Senate: Almost a week into December, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) said Monday that he wants to get the pass the Build Back Better bill on Biden’s desk before Christmas.

In a letter to colleagues Monday, Schumer laid out the procedural steps he plans to take over the next two weeks. “On Friday and Saturday, 8 of the 12 Senate committees that were given Reconciliation instructions submitted their final Senate text to the Parliamentarian, the Congressional Budget Office and the Senate Republicans,” Schumer wrote. “Our goal is to finalize the remaining committees over the course of this week and next.”

Once the text of the bill is complete, it will undergo a “Byrd bath” – a formal review (named for former Sen. Robert Byrd) by the Senate parliamentarian, who checks to ensure that each provision within the legislation meets the requirements of a budget reconciliation package.

A crowded calendar: Schumer noted that lawmakers have other important issues to deal with in the coming days, including the debt limit, the annual National Defense Authorization bill and voting rights legislation.

The timetable appears to be extremely tight, especially with Republicans vowing to oppose parts of the bill. “A lot of their agenda should be voted out because it won’t meet the requirements of having a direct impact on spending and revenues,” Senate Minority Whip John Thune (R-SD) told Politico.

One Democratic aide said the parliamentarian’s office could be a “chokepoint” that could delay the bill, according to The Hill.

Other potential delays include the likelihood that lawmakers will make major changes to the bill, including the treatment of the state and local tax deduction, and the possibility that conservative Democrats like Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV) may prefer to hold the bill until economists get a better read on the state of the economy, especially inflation.

Recognizing how little time is left in the year, Schumer advised his colleagues to prepare for an intense workload. “I will continue to remind you that there are more long days and nights, and potentially weekends, that the Senate will be in session this month,” Schumer said.