President Joe Biden on Wednesday was joined by Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., and health care advocates at the White House to discuss efforts to lower the cost of asthma inhalers, weeks after three of the world’s four largest producers committed to capping the costs. 

“I’m a capitalist,” Biden declared to those convened in Eisenhower Executive Office Building for the event. “Capitalism, though, without competition, isn’t capitalism, it’s exploitation.”


What You Need To Know

  • President Joe Biden on Wednesday was joined by Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., and health care advocates at the White House to discuss efforts to lower the cost of asthma inhalers and tout his agenda to lower health care costs
  • Last month, AstraZeneca, Boehringer Ingelheim and GlaxoSmithKline all committed to capping the price of inhalers at $35 a month 
  • The president used the convening to make the case that companies are using patents to hinder the ability for generic alternatives, that often cost less, to enter the market, something his administration has recently sought to crack down on 
  • Biden has sought to make his efforts to lower health care costs and expand the number of Americans covered a key pitch to voters as he seeks another four years in the White House 

The president used the gathering to make the case that companies are using patents to hinder the ability for generic alternatives, that often cost less, to enter the market — a move he argues keeps prices high and stifles competition. The Biden administration recently has sought to crack down on the issue, with the Federal Trade Commission late last year announcing it was challenging more than 100 patents on inhalers, epinephrine autoinjectors and other products. 

“Playing these games with patients and pricing, big pharma is able to charge Americans significantly higher prices and pad their profits,” Biden declared. 

But Wednesday’s meeting also followed what was considered a victory for the Biden administration and, particularly, Sanders, who put major pressure on CEOs to lower inhaler prices earlier this year. 

“Sen. Sanders has pointed out one company sells an inhaler for $49 in the United Kingdom,” Biden said on Wednesday, “You know how much its charged in the United States for that one inhaler? $645.” 

Last month, AstraZeneca, Boehringer Ingelheim and GlaxoSmithKline all committed to capping the price of inhalers at $35 a month – impacting the roughly 24 million Americans, including more than four million children, with asthma and the around 14 million Americans with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.

Boehringer Ingelheim was first to make the move in March; AstraZeneca made the announcement on Monday, with GSK following two days later. Teva is the last remaining holdout. 

“[Over] the last few weeks, some of the big drug companies have gotten the message to reduce the prices of some asthma drugs,” Biden said on Wednesday. 

Sanders, a well-known progressive who who chairs the upper chamber’s Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions and is outspoken on the issue of health care costs, said on Wednesday that his committee’s investigation into the matter found Americans were paying 70 times more, in some cases, for inhalers than those in Canada and Europe. 

“A Vermont resident recently told my office that she has to pay $320 a month for Boehringer Ingelheim’s Spiriva inhaler,” Sanders said. “As a result of these decisions, she could save more than $3,000 a year on the inhaler she needs to breathe.” 

Two of the three companies that have agreed to the price caps, Sanders said, will start on June 1. 

Biden has sought to make his efforts to lower health care costs and expand the number of Americans covered a key pitch to voters as he seeks another four years in the White House. 

Last month, he traveled to New Hampshire and North Carolina to tout what he considers some of his most significant accomplishments on health care costs, such as enabling Medicare to negotiate lower prescription drug prices, capping insulin costs at $35 a month and total out-of-pocket prescription drug costs at $2,000 per year for seniors on Medicare. 

The president is calling on Congress to expand the $35 insulin cap and $2,000 prescription drug ceiling to everyone, beyond just seniors. He also wants Medicare to have the power to negotiate the price of 50 drugs per year.

Spectrum News’ Joseph Konig contributed to this report.



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