NEWS: Senator Bernie Sanders and President Joe Biden Hold Event at the White House to Discuss Lowering Health Care Costs in America

WASHINGTON, April 3 – Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), Chairman of the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP), today joined President Joe Biden at the White House for an event on their work to lower health care costs for the American people.

Sanders’ remarks, as prepared for delivery, are below and the full event can be watched live here:

Our nation is politically divided. Nobody doubts that.

But there is one issue that the American people, whether they are Republicans, Democrats, or Independents, conservative or progressive, are united on – and that is we are sick and tired of paying, by far, the highest prices in the world for prescription drugs.

On average, we pay over 3 times as much as other major countries for brand name prescription drugs, and, in some cases we pay 10 or 20 times more than the people of other countries for the same exact product.  Meanwhile, ten top drug companies made over $110 billion in profits last year, and pay their CEOs tens of millions of dollars in compensation.

The result of the high cost of prescription drug costs is obvious.  One out of four Americans cannot afford to purchase the prescriptions their doctors write and some die as a result. Others get much sicker than they should, and end up in emergency rooms or hospitals at great expense to our already bloated healthcare system.

Further, the very high cost of prescription drugs is not just an individual patient issue.  It is a taxpayer issue.  It drives up the cost of Medicaid, Medicare and other public health programs as well as private insurance.

The truth is that politicians have been talking about the high cost of prescription drugs for years – including me.  I’ve been on this issue for at least 20 years, maybe more.  But during that time not much has happened.  A lot of talk YES, but no real progress.  The drug companies continued to charge us any price they wanted, for any reason.

Well, here is some good news.  Despite all of the wealth and political power of the pharmaceutical industry, despite their more than 1,800 paid lobbyists on Capitol Hill, the Biden Administration and Democrats in Congress are beginning to make some progress. What have we done over the last few years?

As a result of the Inflation Reduction Act that not one single Republican voted for:

  1. Seniors with diabetes are paying no more than $35 a month for the insulin they need.
  2. Beginning next year, seniors will be paying no more than $2,000 a year for prescription drugs.
  3. Pharmaceutical companies can no longer increase the price of prescription drugs above inflation for seniors without paying a substantial penalty.
  4. And, for the first time in history, Medicare is negotiating with the pharmaceutical industry to lower some of the most expensive prescription drugs in America.

The Biden Administration has also taken executive action to make sure that when American taxpayer dollars help fund the development of certain tests, treatments and vaccines to deal with public health emergencies pharmaceutical companies must charge reasonable prices for those products.

And that’s not all.

In December, the Biden administration proposed that if a drug made using taxpayer funds is not reasonably available to Americans because of its exorbitant price, the government reserves the right to allow a low-cost manufacturer to sell the product for a fraction of the price.

The President called this “an important step toward ending Big Pharma price gouging.”

I agree, and I look forward to the Biden administration implementing this provision to substantially reduce prescription drug prices.

I am also proud of the accomplishments the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP), which I chair, has made to bring down the cost of prescription drugs.

Less than 3 months ago, the HELP Committee launched an investigation into the outrageously high price of inhalers that 25 million Americans with asthma and 16 million Americans with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) need to breathe.

And what we learned is that the American people were paying, in many cases, 10-70 times more for inhalers than the people in Canada and Europe.

After talking to the CEOs of the 4 major inhaler manufacturers, three of them have made a commitment to cap the cost of all of their brand name inhalers – Boehringer Ingelheim, AstraZeneca and GlaxoSmithKline.

Teva, the smallest of the 4 companies that manufacture inhalers has not made that commitment.  We hope they will in the very near future.

Within a short period of time, the vast majority of Americans will pay no more than $35 at the pharmacy counter for the inhalers they purchase.

A Vermont resident recently told my office that she has to pay $320 per month for Boehringer Ingelheim’s Spiriva HandiHaler. As a result of these decisions, she could save more than $3,000 a year on the inhaler that she needs to breathe.  Millions of others will enjoy similar benefits.

My impression is that these companies, as well as many others in the pharmaceutical industry, are beginning to catch on to the fact that the American people are tired of being ripped off and paying astronomical prices for the prescription drugs they need to stay alive or ease their suffering.

Let me also take this moment to thank Lina Khan, the Chair of the Federal Trade Commission for taking on the greed of the pharmaceutical industry.

Last November, the FTC challenged how drug companies manipulate and play games with patents to keep low-cost generic drugs off the market – including asthma inhalers.  By standing up to the drug companies, the FTC has helped deliver this major victory for the American people.

And it’s not just inhalers.

Last year, the CEO of Moderna committed during a HELP Committee hearing that his company would set up a patient assistance program so that no one in America would have to pay for their vaccine out of pocket.

In a separate HELP Committee hearing last May, the CEO of Eli Lilly committed that his company would not raise prices on existing insulin products after announcing very substantial price cuts for these products.

These efforts will improve life for millions of Americans. They will prevent unnecessary deaths, ease suffering and save substantial sums of money for working class families.

But, despite all that we’ve accomplished, it is not enough.  Much more has to be done.

In his State of the Union address, President Biden called on Congress to pass legislation to cap out-of-pocket prescription drug costs for all Americans at no more than $2,000 a year and to substantially increase the number of drugs that can be negotiated with the pharmaceutical industry.  I strongly agree with him.

As Chairman of the HELP Committee, I intend to introduce legislation to do just that.

In my view, we can no longer tolerate companies like Novo Nordisk charging the American people some $1,000 a month for Ozempic – a drug that costs less than $5 to manufacture – when that exact same product can be purchased in Germany for $59.

We can no longer tolerate Astellas and Pfizer charging Americans with prostate cancer over $165,000 for Xtandi when that exact same product can be purchased for just $20,000 in Japan.

Even more disturbing is the reality that over half of the new drugs coming onto the market today cost $300,000, while a number of them actually cost over $1 million.  This is an issue that we must get a handle on.

Working together, we can take on the greed of the pharmaceutical industry and substantially lower the price of prescription drugs in America.  And, when we do that, we will be lowering the cost of health care in America which is far, far too high.

I thank President Biden for what he has done on this issue up to now, and look forward to working with the President as we go forward.

And now I’d like to introduce Kris Garcia from Littleton, Colorado. Even though Mr. Garcia has health insurance through his employer, he and family cannot afford the outrageous price of his medications. Mr. Garcia has asthma and several bleeding disorders and relies on multiple inhalers and specialty drugs to stay alive. Even with insurance, the copays for his inhalers and other medications total more than $450 per month. He has been paying $163 per month for just one inhaler, Advair, and starting soon, Mr. Garcia will be able to get Advair for $35 a month.

Thank you, Mr. Garcia.