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  • Writer's pictureThe San Juan Daily Star

Biden looks to bolster support among seniors with a focus on health care


President Joe Biden boards Air Force One in Las Vegas after speaking at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, on Wednesday, March 15, 2023. With a possible re-election announcement getting closer every day, the president traveled to Las Vegas to boast that millions of older adults would save on their medications thanks to the health care legislation he championed last year.

By Michael D. Shear


One of President Joe Biden’s promises to America’s seniors when he first campaigned for the Oval Office was this: You will pay less for health care.


So earlier this week, with a possible reelection announcement getting closer every day, the president traveled to Las Vegas to boast that millions of older adults would save on their medications thanks to the health care legislation he championed last year.


Because of the Inflation Reduction Act, he said, seniors will no longer have to make copayments for some recommended vaccines like shingles and tetanus, saving them an average of $70 each year in the future.


“For seniors on fixed income who often need expensive medications to stay healthy, that constant question is can they take the medications and can they pay the bills without giving up important elements of their life,” Biden told an audience at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas.


“It’s not just your health,” he said. “It’s about your dignity. It’s about your security.”


In the 2020 election, Biden came up short among people 65 and older to former President Donald Trump, 48% to 52%. The president and his advisers are hoping to increase his support among that group in 2024 by arguing that its financial and medical security will be better protected with Biden in office.


The centerpiece of that argument so far has been the fate of the government’s primary retirement programs, Social Security and Medicare. Biden has been aggressive in seizing on proposals by a handful of Republican politicians to argue that the party would put the popular programs in danger.


He said as much on Wednesday, standing in front of a sign at the University of Nevada that said “Lowering Costs for American Families.” The president recounted his State of the Union speech this year, when several Republican lawmakers called him a liar for claiming that they wanted to cut the social safety net programs.


“I hope it’s true,” he said, noting that the legislators were being filmed as they denied any interest in doing any damage to Medicare and Social Security. “But I’ll believe it when I see it,” he said.


Beyond that issue, the administration argues that older Americans will also be grateful for the president’s efforts to keep costs down, especially when it comes to their medications, at a time when prices have been rising sharply.


In addition to the $70 average savings on vaccines, White House officials said Wednesday that seniors across the country would benefit from provisions in the Inflation Reduction Act that penalize drug companies when they increase the cost of a drug faster than inflation.


Officials said that 27 specialized drugs recently met that criteria, and that their makers would be required to pay rebates to the federal government for the extra costs. Administration officials said that older Americans might see some savings in the future as drug companies keep prices lower to avoid having to pay the rebates.


“Some people with traditional Medicare or managed care Medicare may stand to save starting in just a matter of weeks,” Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra told reporters before the president’s appearance.


Biden also highlighted the impact that his health care actions have had on the cost of insulin, which is a common — and usually expensive — drug for many seniors who suffer from diabetes.


The president’s health care law caps the price of insulin at $35 per month for older adults, and Biden has succeeded in persuading two of the three biggest drug manufacturers to lower costs for younger people in need of insulin. Eli Lilly announced this month that it would cap out-of-pocket costs for insulin at the same $35. Novo Nordisk said it would cut the cost of its insulin drug by 75%.


The focus on medical costs for older adults has been part of Biden’s agenda since before he became president. His campaign website said under the heading “The Biden Plan for Older Americans” that seniors in the United States “deserve to retire with dignity — able to pay for their prescriptions and with access to quality, affordable long-term care.”


But his policy ambitions are now part of a political effort to win back some in that demographic who have trended toward Republicans as the average age of people living in the country increases each year.


A group of about two-dozen Republican lawmakers is pushing legislation to repeal the Inflation Reduction Act, a move that White House officials and the president have seized on. Biden wants to make his Republican White House rival — whomever that turns out to be — pay for a repeal effort by suggesting that it will hurt older adults.


In a statement last month, the White House said that efforts to repeal the law “would give tens of billions of dollars in subsidies back to Big Pharma, raise seniors’ prescription drug prices and raise taxes on an estimated 14.5 million people — all while increasing the deficit.”


Biden’s visit to Las Vegas comes just weeks before he is expected to announce that he is running for a second term. Nevada is a critical swing state that Democrats need in their column if they want to retain control of the White House for another four years. In 2020, Biden won the state with 50.06% of the vote, to Trump’s 47.67%.


Wednesday’s speech took place at the William F. Harrah College of Hospitality, a nod to the service unions that are extremely powerful in Las Vegas and an important Democratic constituency.


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