The prescription Medicare drug price negotiations that President Joe Biden secured in last year’s Inflation Reduction Act promise to save both the program and individual seniors a lot of money. In fact, according to the White House, in 2022 seniors paid $3.4 billion out-of-pocket for the initial 10 drugs in the administration’s plan. The Medicare program paid out $50.5 billion on just those 10 drugs from June 1, 2022, to May 31, 2023.
Never mind all that, Republican strategists argue. The GOP should take the side of Big Pharma and run against Biden’s plan. “Republicans have to figure out how to go after it,” one former Trump advisor, Joe Grogan, told Politico. Another argued for the age-old Republican tactic of scaring seniors about the issue. Joel White, a Republican health care strategist, gave his take on it: “It gets politicians and bureaucrats right into your medicine cabinet.”
To be clear, this is the plan that is going to save individual seniors hundreds, if not thousands, of dollars on their prescriptions. It’s the plan that the Congressional Budget Office says will save the Medicare program billions of dollars and reduce the deficit. Smart thinking, Republicans. That’s right up there in strategic brilliance with trying to rebrand the GOP on abortion by saying they have “pro-baby policies.”
Here’s just how popular the program they’re advising Republicans to “go after” is: Even 77% of Republicans support “[a]uthorizing the federal government to negotiate the price of some prescription drugs for people with Medicare,” according to the latest Kaiser Family Foundation survey.
Telling seniors—83% of whom support Biden’s plan—they should be spending more on their essential prescriptions is just one problem the Republicans will face on this. A very big issue is the fact that the current front-runner for the GOP presidential nomination, the former guy, tried to institute a drug price negotiation scheme of his own. It was derailed when he reportedly tried to force the industry to pay for his plan to bribe seniors with $100 cash cards to be sent right before the 2020 election. Drug makers balked, but former President Donald Trump is holding firm on his position of “taking on Big Pharma.”
Trump had also issued sweeping Medicare drug price negotiating executive orders, which met with immediate legal challenges from the industry. The courts issued injunctions that kept Trump’s order from ever being enforced. Biden rescinded those executive orders in 2021, and crafted his own alternative through statute: the Medicare drug price negotiation provisions in the IRA.
That’s two issues for the GOP: They want to make seniors spend more, and their lead guy doesn’t agree with them. The third problem is a more wide-ranging one: Republicans lose when they try to run on health care. Since the huge political battles over the Affordable Care Act, Gallup data shows that public opinion has shifted in favor of the idea that the federal government should have the responsibility to “make sure all Americans have healthcare coverage.” Other polling, year after year, shows that the American public trusts Democrats to do a better job than Republicans on health care policy.
Which message is more compelling: Biden saying, “Boy, we’ve been fighting Big Pharma for a long time. … I promise you I’m gonna have your back and I’ll never stop fighting for you on this issue, nor will Kamala,” or a Republican saying, “Company after company is making changes to commercial strategy due to the fact they have to anticipate government price-setting and basically [the] extortion that price dictates”?
Biden has a strong argument to make on Medicare and on health care. The reforms he’s made, on top of those made in the landmark Affordable Care Act when he served with President Barack Obama, have combined to save Medicare and the federal budget. A recent Upshot analysis from The New York Times demonstrates how massive those reforms have been: “If Medicare spending had grown the way it had for much of its history, federal spending would have been $3.9 trillion higher since 2011, and deficits would have been more than a quarter larger.”
Those are savings for the Medicare program—for the federal budgets and for America’s seniors. In just the first seven years of the Affordable Care Act, more than 12 million Medicare enrollees saved over $26 billion on prescription drugs. There’s a reason they trust Democrats to do a better job of protecting them and their Medicare.
So sure, Republicans, go with Big Pharma on this. Tell the people they should have to decide whether to pay rent and buy food or refill their prescriptions so that the CEOs of Big Pharma can keep raking in their obscene salaries. That’s an excellent plan for 2024.
Why does it seem like Republicans have such a hard time recruiting Senate candidates who actually live in the states they want to run in? We’re discussing this strange but persistent phenomenon on this week’s edition of “The Downballot.” The latest example is former Michigan Rep. Mike Rogers, who’s been spending his time in Florida since leaving the House in 2015, but he’s not the only one. Republican Senate hopefuls in Pennsylvania, Nevada, Montana, and Wisconsin all have questionable ties to their home states—a problem that Democrats have gleefully exploited in recent years. (Remember Dr. Oz? Of course you do.)