Biden announces new initiative to combat America's high prescription drug costs

US pays on average 2.5 times more for prescription drugs than other wealthy countries

President Joe Biden speaks during an event on prescription drug costs at the White House in Washington. AP
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President Joe Biden on Tuesday unveiled new initiatives aimed at lowering healthcare costs, including those for prescription drugs.

“I'm proud to announce that Medicare selected the first 10 additional drugs for negotiation … to treat everything from heart failure, blood clots, diabetes, kidney disease, arthritis, blood cancers, Crohn's disease and so much more,” Mr Biden said in remarks from the White House.

Medicare is the government-backed health insurance scheme for Americans aged 65 and older.

The reform is part of the broader Inflation Reduction Act – a vast programme of energy transition and social reforms.

The White House has initially chosen 10 drugs for which Medicare will now be able to negotiate the price.

This has not been the case until now, unlike health insurance plans in many rich countries.

“These negotiations matter: reducing the cost of these 10 additional drugs alone will help more than nine million Americans,” Mr Biden said.

According to the US government, in 2022, senior citizens had to spend a total of $3.4 billion out of pocket for these treatments, which are prescribed for blood clots, diabetes, heart problems, psoriasis and blood cancers.

The US pays on average 2.5 times more for prescription drugs than countries such as France, AFP reported, citing a study by the Rand Corporation.

“You can walk into a local drugstore across the country are paying two to three times more for the exact same prescription manufactured by the exact same company that would cost you in Canada or France or anywhere else around the world,” Mr Biden said.

One of the treatments named in the new initiative, the anticoagulant Eliquis (apixaban), is used by more than 3.7 million Medicare beneficiaries.

The laboratory that manufactures it, Bristol Myers Squibb, says that Medicare beneficiaries who are prescribed this drug “are currently able to get it with relatively low out-of-pocket costs at an average of $55 per month”, and claims that Mr Biden's initiative puts that “at risk”.

The Johnson & Johnson group, which produces two of the drugs affected, said that the reform would “constrain medical innovation, limit patient access and choice, and negatively impact overall quality of care”.

Mr Biden said his administration was also addressing “junk health insurance plans” and surprise medical bills.

Updated: August 29, 2023, 7:53 PM