In his first State of the Union address, President Joe Biden on March 1 called on Congress to enact legislation to lower prescription drug prices and also announced a series of actions his administration will take to improve the safety and quality of care in the nation’s nursing homes.
While Biden opened his speech by addressing the war in Ukraine, he spent much of the time outlining his domestic agenda, which includes a number of goals AARP has been fighting for.
As he began to describe his plan to fight inflation, Biden’s first call was to fight the high prices of prescription drugs. “Let’s cap the cost of insulin at $35 a month so everyone can afford it,” the president said. “Drug companies will still do very well. And while we’re at it, let Medicare negotiate lower prices for prescription drugs.” Allowing Medicare to negotiate prices, capping Medicare Part D out-of-pocket costs and levying tax penalties on pharmaceutical companies that raise their prices more than the rate of general inflation are the key pillars of AARP’s Fair Rx Prices Now campaign.
Biden also called on Congress to make permanent the savings on Affordable Care Act (ACA) premiums included in 2021’s American Rescue Plan, a temporary reprieve he said is helping millions of families save on their health care costs. The benefit that allows all consumers to pay no more than 8.5 percent of their income on ACA health insurance premiums is scheduled to end after this year. For adults ages 50 to 64, these subsidies provide an average savings of over $950 annually.
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“AARP is encouraged that President Biden continues to urge Congress to act on our nation’s skyrocketing prescription drug prices,” AARP CEO Jo Ann Jenkins said after the address. “We urge the Senate to keep their promises to voters and lower drug prices, reduce seniors’ drug costs and save taxpayers hundreds of billions of dollars.”
Nursing home reforms planned
Biden also promised to crack down on poor quality in our nation’s nursing homes.
“As Wall Street firms take over more nursing homes, quality in those homes has gone down and costs have gone up,” Biden said. “That ends on my watch. Medicare is going to set higher standards for nursing homes and make sure your loved ones get the care they deserve and expect.” The day before the State of the Union address, the administration announced a comprehensive plan to better regulate and oversee nursing homes and other long-term care facilities.
“For years, AARP and AARP Foundation have sounded the alarm about problems in America’s nursing homes,” Jenkins said in her statement. “The COVID-19 pandemic exposed the chronic, ongoing issues with our long-term care system and emphasized the need for reform. It is a national disgrace that more than 200,000 residents and staff in nursing homes and other long-term care facilities died.”
Bill Sweeney, AARP senior vice president for government affairs, said that the newly announced nursing home reforms go even further than what was included in the Build Back Better bill the U.S. House of Representatives passed in 2021. “It really does reinforce the importance of family caregivers, who for years now have been raising their voices and making sure they were heard about the quality and safety in nursing homes.”
Biden’s highlighting of the prescription drug and nursing home concerns is very important, Sweeney said. “In both cases, the president is very focused on not only helping families save money and have better outcomes for their loved ones, but also saving taxpayers money and bringing fiscal responsibilities to the budget to make sure that we’re getting what we are paying for.”
Dena Bunis covers Medicare, health care, health policy and Congress. She also writes the Medicare Made Easy column for the AARP Bulletin. An award-winning journalist, Bunis spent decades working for metropolitan daily newspapers, including as Washington bureau chief for the Orange County Register and as a health policy and workplace writer for Newsday.