With weighty topics like inflation, infrastructure, job growth, and the war in Ukraine, President Joe Biden had a lot to tackle in his State of the Union speech Tuesday night.
And even though he didn’t address the importance of health data interoperability, as our Chief Medical Officer Dr. Steven Lane was hoping he would, the 46th president of the United States had plenty to say about healthcare. Here are the highlights:
The COVID-19 Pandemic
With deaths from the novel coronavirus down by nearly 90% and the public health emergency scheduled to end in May, Biden talked about how far we’ve come while urging continued vigilance.
“Today, COVID no longer controls our lives. We’ve saved millions of lives and opened our country back up,” Biden said. “But we’ll remember the toll and pain that’s never going to go away.”
Biden did not mince words on this topic, addressing members of Congress who are threatening to repeal the Inflation Reduction Act. “Make no mistake, if you try to do anything to raise the cost of prescription drugs, I will veto it,” he said.
“We pay more for prescription drugs than any major country on Earth,” Biden said, citing the $10 it takes to produce a vial of insulin for the 1 in 10 Americans who have diabetes. “Big Pharma has been unfairly charging people hundreds of dollars – and making record profits. Not anymore.”
He touted the cap on insulin prices at $35 for seniors on Medicare that went into effect January 1, adding: “Let’s cap the cost of insulin at $35 a month for every American who needs it.”
“Big Pharma is still going to do very well. I promise you all.”
The Inflation Reduction Act allows Medicare to negotiate prescription drug prices – a key step towards lowering both drug prices and the federal deficit.
“This law also caps out-of-pocket drug costs for seniors on Medicare at a maximum $2,000 per year when there are in fact many drugs, like expensive cancer drugs, that can cost up to $10,000, $12,000, and $14,000 a year,” Biden said.
As Vice President during the Obama Administration, Biden was tasked with leading the Cancer Moonshot – a push for significant advances in cancer treatment and care he revived in 2022.
“Our goal is to cut the cancer death rate by at least 50% over the next 25 years. Turn more cancers from death sentences into treatable diseases. And provide more support for patients and families,” said Biden, who lost his own son, Beau Biden, to cancer at the age of 46.
“It’s personal for so many of us.”
“Twenty years ago, under the leadership of President Bush and countless advocates and champions, we undertook a bipartisan effort through the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) to transform the global fight against HIV/AIDS. It’s been a huge success," Biden said.
“I believe we can do the same with cancer,” he said. “Let’s end cancer as we know it and cure some cancers once and for all.”
The Affordable Care Act
Biden cited the record 16 million people enrolled under the Affordable Care Act (ACA).
“I’m pleased to say that more Americans have health insurance now than ever in history. Thanks to the law I signed last year, millions are saving $800 a year on their premiums,” he said, adding that the benefit will expire in 2025 as the law is currently written. “Let’s finish the job, make those savings permanent, and expand coverage to those left off Medicaid.”
“Congress must restore the right the Supreme Court took away last year and codify Roe v. Wade to protect every woman’s constitutional right to choose,” Biden said.
With more than a dozen states already enforcing extreme abortion bans, he promised that he and Vice President Kamala Harris are doing everything they can to protect access to reproductive healthcare and safeguard patient privacy.
“Make no mistake,” Biden added, “if Congress passes a national abortion ban, I will veto it.”
Surprise Medical Bills
Biden also talked about the No Surprises Act, a bipartisan law passed in late 2020 during the Trump administration, which took effect January 1 and protects patients from unexpected out-of-network bills for emergency care and other services.
“Here’s my message to all of you out there: I have your back,” he said. “We’re already preventing insurance companies from sending surprise medical bills, stopping 1 million surprise bills a month.”
Mental Health and Drug Addiction
Biden made an impassioned plea for more investment in behavioral health services and efforts to stop access to drugs and help those already addicted. He talked about what had already been done, including:
- A bipartisan law that makes it easier for doctors to prescribe effective treatments for opioid addiction.
- A gun safety bill making historic investments in mental health.
“But there is so much more to do. And we can do it together,” Biden said. “Fentanyl is killing more than 70,000 Americans a year. Let’s launch a major surge to stop fentanyl production, sale, and trafficking, with more drug detection machines to inspect cargo and stop pills and powder at the border.”
Second, he urged Congress to do more on mental health, especially for our children.
“When millions of young people are struggling with bullying, violence, trauma – we owe them greater access to mental health care at school,” he said.
“We must finally hold social media companies accountable for the experiment they are running on our children for profit,” Biden went on. “It’s time to pass bipartisan legislation to stop Big Tech from collecting personal data on kids and teenagers online, ban targeted advertising to children, and impose stricter limits on the personal data these companies collect on all of us.”