Biden slams asthma inhaler prices in White House address

President Joe Biden and Senator Bernie Sanders
@POTUS via X

President Joe Biden has reiterated his pledge to take action against high drug prices and “beat big pharma,” singling out the cost of asthma inhalers in a speech delivered at a White House event with US Senator Bernie Sanders, a long-time critic of the industry’s pricing policies in the US.

Biden said one particular inhaler costs $49 in the UK, but is sold by the same company in the US for $645. Another is priced at $9 in Germany and $286 in the US - a 30-fold increase, even though it is “the same exact medicine and the same exact device.”

He said Sanders had successfully called attention to the pricing disparity and, as a result, “three of the four largest companies are capping the cost of inhalers for many patients – that can be up to $600 out of pocket – at $35.”

Earlier this year, Sanders and other US politicians sent letters to the chief executives of four pharma companies that have a prominent position in the asthma inhaler market - AstraZeneca, Boehringer Ingelheim, GSK, and Teva – taking them to task over their US pricing.

While the drugmakers have taken steps to reduce out-of-pocket costs and improve access, they claim that a primary reason for high prices in the US is the actions of middlemen in the supply chain, including pharmacy benefit managers (PBMs), who don’t pass savings onto patients.

Biden, meanwhile, also called out strategies deployed by pharma companies to delay competition, citing another identified example in which a company “slightly changed the cap of an inhaler and […] use the new patent on that cap to block generic drug companies from being able to enter the market.”

The president has made lowering healthcare costs a key element of his campaign for re-election later this year, building on the already-introduced Inflation Reduction Act that introduced a string of measures, including giving Medicare the power to negotiate drug prices and capping prescription drug costs for seniors on Medicare at $2,000 a year from 2025.

In the speech, he reiterated his intent to extend the number of medicines subject to negotiation, currently limited to only 10 of the costliest drugs, to at least 50 per year, claiming that could deliver taxpayer savings of $200 billion.

Biden also said the plan is to cap prescription drug costs at $2,000 a year for all US citizens using Medicare.

“It’s time the drug companies pay rebates when they increase prices faster than inflation – not just for seniors, but for every single American,” he added. “With Bernie’s help, we’re showing how healthcare ought to be a right and not a privilege in America.”