HEALTH CARE BRIEFING: Biden Urges Passage of Drug Pricing Plan

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President Joe Biden called on lawmakers to pass his plan to lower prescription drugs prices, saying he’s seeking to cut down surging costs faced by families at a time when inflation is spiking. “Bringing down the cost of healthcare, bringing down the cost of prescription drugs is an easy thing for us to do,” Biden said. “It can be done legally with the stroke of a pen.”

Biden is seeking to address high drug prices and other pocketbook issues ahead of this year’s midterms as rising consumer prices threaten Democrats’ control of Congress. His remarks came the same day Department of Labor data showed U.S. consumer prices surged in January by more than expected, sending the yearly inflation rate to a fresh four-decade high of 7.5%.

Biden’s stalled $2 trillion Build Back Better social spending effort seeks to lower prescription medication costs for people with Medicare and private insurance by allowing the federal government to negotiate the price of certain drugs, cap out-of-pocket spending for some Medicare enrollees and limit insulin costs. “What we’re proposing is that we negotiate fair prices,” Biden said.

GOP senators oppose Biden’s Build Back Better plan while moderate Democrats Joe Manchin (W.Va.) and Kyrsten Sinema (Ariz.) have raised objections. Biden has said the package would have to be broken up to make it through Congress but he still hopes some “chunks” of the bill will survive.

Senate Budget Chairman Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) are pushing leaders to quickly move a standalone measure to cut drug prices, an effort that would require 60 votes to pass in the evenly divided chamber. Though Manchin has said he supports the push to reduce drug costs, Democrats in both the House and Senate balked at major drug price controls last year. Read more from Nancy Cook and Jordan Fabian.

Also on Lawmakers’ Radars

Senate Tees Up Califf Nomination: Senate leaders teed up the nomination of Robert Califf to head the Food and Drug Administration, while much of the chamber remains uncommitted on whether they’ll support him for the job. Only 18 senators have so far publicly supported Califf’s nomination. Ten Republicans—Thom Tillis (N.C.), Shelley Moore Capito (W.Va.), Rick Scott (Fla.), Marco Rubio (Fla.), Chuck Grassley (Iowa), Rob Portman (Ohio), John Kennedy (La.) and John Cornyn (Texas)—all said they’re undecided.

Some, like Grassley, voted to give Califf the same position during the final year of the Obama administration, but opposition from anti-abortion advocates has raised questions about the FDA’s role in overseeing abortion drugs. “There wasn’t any controversy about him the first time, but I have a pro-life voting record and the extent to which there’s been questions raised about some of the things he’s done raises problems with some of my constituents,” Grassley said. “I’m going to just have to think about it awhile,” he said, Alex Ruoff reports.

Democrats Pivot on Pandemic Messaging: Vulnerable House Democrats say they want to show voters the light at the end of the pandemic tunnel and talk up their party’s leadership in bringing the U.S. back to a state of normalcy. The comments this week came as Democratic governors in several states announced end dates for mask mandates in businesses and schools as Covid-19 case numbers continue to decline—and as polling indicates more Americans voters are optimistic that the pandemic won’t worsen again.

While some lawmakers remain wary of overpromising a brighter future with the pandemic ongoing, there was a clear message and tone shift from others—with the midterm elections now less than nine months away. “As the pandemic has evolved, the way we talk about it has to do that as well,” said Rep. Dan Kildee (D-Mich.), who faces a more competitive re-election this fall after redistricting. However, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director Rochelle Walensky said at a briefing that though “we are encouraged by the current trends, we are not there yet.” Zach C. Cohen and Emily Wilkins have more.

  • Biden said that easing coronavirus mask requirements was “probably premature, but it’s a tough call” while acknowledging that the pandemic has had “a profound impact on the psyche of the American people.” “But what I’ve tried to do, I’ve tried to make sure we have all the vaccines needed, all the boosters needed, all the masks needed, all the protection that’s needed,” Biden said in an interview with NBC News broadcast last night. Read more from Jordan Fabian and Jennifer Jacobs.

More Headlines:

The Coronavirus Pandemic

New York’s Unvaccinated City Workers Face Firing: About 4,000 unvaccinated New York City employees, including police officers, teachers and firefighters, face termination today. Jobs are at risk for about 3,000 workers who took unpaid leave instead of getting vaccinated when the city’s mandate took effect in October, as well as about 1,000 recent hires who haven’t submitted documentation of their second shots. About 95% of the 370,000 city workers have received at least one dose. In a press conference yesterday, Mayor Eric Adams characterized the employees’ termination as “quitting,” saying that they’re choosing to leave their jobs by not following the rules. Read more from Alicia Diaz.

Hospitals Want Panic Button Funds: U.S. hospitals battling the pandemic are again asking for federal relief, but this time it’s for panic buttons instead of protective gear. Rising violence and harassment in hospitals is the latest stress for health-care workers—and the latest strain on facilities’ finances as the world enters its third year of the pandemic. It’s a far cry from the daily appreciation rituals at the onset of Covid-19 and has spurred the American Hospital Association to seek money for lighting, locks, and security training. Lauren Coleman-Lochner have more.

U.S. Braces for Possible Trucker Protest Sunday: Federal, state, and local law-enforcement agencies across the U.S. are bracing for the possibility of a protest by truckers that could start this weekend and carry through March, potentially including a cross-country caravan and disruptions to cities and key transportation routes. Social media channels are buzzing with plans for a U.S. trucker protest of vaccine rules in solidarity with Canadian drivers who have occupied the center of Ottawa. Read more from Sarah Kopit and Chris Strohm.

Report Urges OSHA Expansion for Next Crisis: The role of federal and state workplace safety agencies should be expanded to protect workers from the next airborne virus pandemic and other hazards, according to a new report from the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. The 573-page report issued also said the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration should widen worker respiratory protections to include other major hazards increasing in frequency, such as wildfire smoke. Read more from Bruce Rolfsen.

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What Else to Know Today

Texas Abortions Fell by Half in First Month of Law: The number of abortions performed in Texas fell by half in the month after one of the most restrictive laws in the nation went into effect. The 2,197 abortions in September were down 51% from the year-earlier period, according to the most recent data from Texas’s Health and Human Services Commission. The statistics give a first impression of the effects from the state’s new abortion law, which essentially bans the procedure after cardiac activity can be detected in the fetus. Read more from Brendan Walsh.

Planned Medicaid Work Rule Effect at Heart of Georgia Suit: Georgia’s lawsuit in defense of its Medicaid work requirements could turn on whether a court concludes the state’s proposal will increase or reduce the number of people in the program. At issue is the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services’ rescission of a Trump-era waiver that allowed Georgia’s plan to partially expand eligibility for Medicaid to include working age adults earning up to 100% of the federal poverty level, set at $27,750 for a family of four in 2022. Christopher Brown has more.

More Headlines:

To contact the reporters on this story: Brandon Lee in Washington at; Alex Ruoff in Washington at

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Zachary Sherwood at; Giuseppe Macri at; Michaela Ross at

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