President Biden said Monday diabetes sufferers would no longer have to ration insulin and Americans would see lower prices at the pharmacy counter under his social-welfare legislation.
In a bid to build momentum for the multitrillion-dollar bill that passed the House but faces a rewrite in the Senate, Mr. Biden said the millions of Americans who need insulin to live will pay no more than $35 per month out-of-pocket under any kind of health plan.
He also said people without insurance can get covered through expanded federal subsidies for Obamacare under his bill.
He touted the provisions after recounting tales of people rationing insulin or sharing their medicine with other diabetics.
“Shame on us as a nation, we can’t do better than this,” Mr. Biden said. “It’s enough. Enough. Nobody has held the manufacturers accountable until now.”
The social-welfare bill also says Medicare, for the first time, would be empowered to negotiate the price of 10 life-saving drugs starting in 2023. The list of drugs eligible for negotiation would increase over time.
“All of us, whatever our background, our age, where we live we can agree that prescription drugs are outrageously expensive in this country,” Mr. Biden said. “It doesn’t need to be that way.”
Mr. Biden said drugmakers will face a “steep” excise tax if they raise prices on drugs higher than the rate of inflation, and the deal further caps out-of-pocket costs for Medicare beneficiaries to $2,000 per year.
The House approved the social welfare bill, 220 votes to 213, in mid-November but it faces a tougher test in the Senate, where Democrats cannot afford to lose a single vote in the evenly divided chamber.
“We need the Senate to follow the House of Representatives’ lead and pass my ‘Build Back Better’ bill,” Mr. Biden said.
Americans often cite drug prices as a source of worry, particularly as specialized drugs for conditions like hepatitis C and Alzheimer’s come onto the market with great promise, but with eye-popping prices to match.
Solutions are hard to find.
Drug and insurance lobbies point the finger at each other, while politicians bicker over how much government intervention will cut into drugmakers’ profits, resulting in job losses and/or hindering the discovery of new cures.
Former President Trump made drug prices a key focus of his time in office and berated some companies into holding off on some prices increases. But many of his core ideas were withdrawn, blocked by courts or foundered in Congress before the pandemic took over as the main health concern.
Mr. Biden claimed momentum around his own plan.
“We need Congress to finish the job. Come together and make a difference in people’s lives,” he said, though later told reporters he wouldn’t set a deadline for senators. “As early as we can get it. We want to get it done no matter how long it takes.”
The Congressional Budget Office estimates that Mr. Biden’s drug provisions would reduce the federal deficit by nearly $297 billion over 10 years, although the analysts estimated the overall legislation will add upwards of $367 billion to the federal deficit.
The pharmaceutical industry is lobbying against the bill while it is revised in the Senate.
“The consequences of this heavy-handed drug pricing plan will make a broken insurance system worse and throw sand in the gears of medical progress,” Stephen J. Ubl, president and CEO of the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America, said in condemning House passage in November.
“It will stifle continued innovation after a medicine is first approved, discourage the introduction of generics and biosimilar treatments, and undermine the robust competition that has made the Medicare Part D program a success for millions of seniors,” he said.
The president said drugmakers deserve to make a profit on life-saving drugs but there are limits.
“We can make a distinction between developing those breakthroughs,” Mr. Biden said, “and jacking up prices on a range of medicines, which have been on the market for years within making a substantive change in the medication.”
• Haris Alic contributed to this report.