(Photo by Alex Wong\Getty Images)
President Joe Biden's joint address to Congress tonight held promises for the future of healthcare.
Biden wants to continue the lower premiums in the Affordable Care Act that are available under the American Rescue Plan, lower deductibles in the ACA and lower prescription drug costs by allowing Medicare to negotiate prices.
"Let's give Medicare the power to save hundreds of billions by negotiating lower prices," Biden said, saying it would lower prices for everyone.
"We all know how outrageously expensive drugs are in America. In fact, we pay the highest drug prices of anywhere in the world right here in America," Biden said. "Nearly three times for the same drug, nearly three times what other countries pay. We can change that and we can."
The simple premise, the president said is, "Healthcare should be a right and not a privilege in America."
In his first 100 days in office, an additional 800,000 Americans have enrolled in the ACA through a special enrollment period opened by his administration.
For the first time, sitting behind the president were two women: Vice President Kamala Harris and Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi.
Acknowledging Madam Speaker and Madam Vice President, Biden said, "No president has ever said those words from this podium, and it's about time."
Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the audience was limited to 40 Democrats and 40 Republicans from the House and 30 Democrats and 30 Republicans from the Senate.
The pandemic has overshadowed all other crises in his administration and that of his predecessor, President Donald Trump.
Biden's $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan, which passed in March, gave relief through funding and policies aimed at mitigating the effect of the pandemic.
"We're already seeing the results," Biden said.
Biden promised to have 100 million COVID-19 shots available during his first 100 days – and over 220 million shots have been provided, he said.
Continued efforts include having the vaccine available in pharmacies, community centers, community vaccination sites and mobile units for all Americans over the age of 16.
Senior deaths from the virus are down 80% since January, he said. Grandparents are hugging grandchildren, "instead of pressing hands against a window to say goodbye," he said.
Supply of the vaccine is starting to outstrip demand as many of the remaining Americans to be vaccinated are hesitant to step forward.
"Go get vaccinated, America," Biden said. "Go and get the vaccination. They're available."
Biden continually addressed America's role in the world in the 21st century, saying the country is "on the move," it will "never stay down" and is "ready for takeoff."
"Buy American," he said.
Senator Ted Cruz tweeted during the speech, "Approximately 5% of Joe Biden's so-called infrastructure bill is spent on roads and bridges. The Real State of the Union: Biden is more focused on the radical left's priorities than actual infrastructure."
AMERICAN JOBS PLAN AND AMERICAN FAMILIES PLAN
Biden promotes a $15 an hour minimum wage.
His $2 trillion America's Jobs Plan is aimed at jobs and clean water.
Biden said 800,000 families are on a Medicare waiting list to get home care for an aging parent or a loved one with disabilities.
"Their greatest concern, as much as the children, is taking care of an elderly loved one who can't be left alone. Medicaid is complicated, but this plan will create jobs for caregivers and give them better benefits," he said.
A bipartisan group of lawmakers in the U.S. Congress is working on an alternative to President Joe Biden's $2.3 trillion infrastructure plan that would cost roughly half as much but spend far more on roads and bridges, according to Reuters. Senate Republicans unveiled their own five-year, $568 billion infrastructure proposal last week.
The American Jobs Plan includes $100 billion to expand high-speed broadband Internet in unserved and underserved areas.
It would spend $400 billion toward expanding access to home-based or community-based care and improving the wages of caregivers – who are disproportionately women of color.
Provider groups have applauded the American Jobs Plan for addressing some of the social determinants of health that contribute to health inequalities.
Biden's $1.8 trillion American Families Plan would provide direct support to children and families to spend no more than 7% of income on childcare; provide at least four years of free education, including universal preschool to all 3 and 4-year olds; and give two years of free community college.
It would extend tax cuts for families with children and for American workers.
It would offer paid family and medical leave to ensure workers receive partial wage replacement.
Biden plans to pay for the new legislation through a tax on the wealthiest 1%, bringing that tax back to the 39.6% that was in effect when George W. Bush was president.
"Recent studies show that 55 of the nation's biggest corporations pay zero federal tax – paid zero federal tax last year. Those 55 corporations made in excess of $40 billion in profit," he said. "We are going to get rid of the loopholes that allow Americans to make more than a million dollars a year and pay a lower tax rate on capital gains than Americans who receive a paycheck."
His proposals are receiving push-back from Republicans.
Justine Handelman, senior vice president of the office of policy and representation for the Blue Cross Blue Shield Association, said "We're extremely pleased to see President Biden's American Families Plan make premium reductions permanent, which will make it easier for people to access and afford healthcare coverage.
"If this premium assistance were to sunset in two years – as detailed in the American Rescue Plan – people across the country may experience significant increases in their ACA premiums."
The Campaign for Sustainable Rx Pricing executive director Lauren Aronson said, "We applaud the President for calling on Republicans and Democrats to work together to advance urgently needed solutions to lower prescription drug prices. This is a top priority for American voters, who need relief from Big Pharma's egregious pricing and anti-competitive practices, and we look forward to working with the administration and Congress to get the job done this year."
Dr. Bruce Siegel, president and CEO of America's Essential Hospitals, said "We share the president's vision of a more equitable and just nation and a strong social safety net that meets the needs of all people for health care, housing, education, food security, and other necessities of life. Without these things, poor health and health care outcomes can result, and we appreciate the president's focus on these social determinants.
"We also applaud his vigorous response to COVID-19 and success getting vaccines to more than half of adults in his first 100 days. The president cautioned there is still work to do to beat the virus, and we agree – we must ensure our hospitals and other front-line providers have the federal funding and other support they need to meet current and future challenges.
"So, we urge the administration to devote sustainable and robust support to Medicaid and other safety net programs and to prioritize essential hospitals' infrastructure needs, including technology and workforce, as we emerge from the pandemic."
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