Big deal: Biden bets on healthcare as 2024 boon years after Obamacare ‘shellacking’

Joe Biden, John Hickenlooper
President Joe Biden greets Rep. John Hickenlooper, D-Colo., after Biden spoke during an event in the East Room of the White House in Washington, Thursday, March 23, 2023, celebrating the 13th anniversary of the Affordable Care Act. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh) Susan Walsh/AP

Big deal: Biden bets on healthcare as 2024 boon years after Obamacare ‘shellacking’

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The White House is homing in on healthcare as a potential winner for President Joe Biden and Democrats amid the debt ceiling standoff and before next year’s elections.

No longer a political albatross, Biden this week celebrated the 13th anniversary of Obamacare after last week promoting his administration’s efforts to lower prescription drug prices and, the week before that, his plan to shore up Medicare. But the prospect of a drug shortage could undo his endeavors.

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The White House has been underscoring healthcare, recently prioritizing Biden and Democrats’ criticism of Republicans who have proposed cutting Medicare over their attacks on GOP lawmakers who are amenable to reforming Social Security before a possible default this summer. The slight shift in focus amplifies the perception Republicans are weaker on healthcare issues before the 2024 electoral cycle, according to former GOP strategist-turned-Claremont McKenna College politics professor John Pitney.

“Democrats have ‘owned’ the healthcare issue for many years, and GOP messaging on health issues has largely failed,” Pitney told the Washington Examiner. “Expect Democrats to air a version of this 2012 ad, perhaps with a Rick Scott lookalike in place of Paul Ryan,” he added of the Agenda Project’s “Granny Off the Cliff” spot, the Florida senator, and the former House speaker. “As for Social Security, Democrats have that one in reserve, too.”

As the economy contends with stubborn inflation and the surprise collapse of two regional banks, Biden showcased Democrats’ strength on healthcare during the White House Obamacare event in which he described the law as “the most consequential piece of healthcare legislation since the creation of Medicare and Medicaid in 1965.”

“While the Affordable Care Act has been called a lot of things, Obamacare is the most fitting description,” he said Thursday. “I remember three words I used at the time. I thought it was a big deal, and I stand by the fact that it was a big deal.”

Voters initially thought differently, handing Democrats a massive defeat in the first midterm election since the law passed. Then-President Barack Obama described that result as a “shellacking,” but in recent years, the law’s popularity has improved.

The White House emphasized that message, with spokeswoman Robyn Patterson alleging “extreme MAGA Republicans are still dead-set on repealing the health coverage that 40 million Americans rely on.”

“It’s the Affordable Care Act’s 13th birthday. But extreme MAGA Republicans are having their own party to determine how best to raise the cost of prescription drugs and health insurance while ripping health coverage away from children and middle-class families,” Patterson told reporters. “Extreme MAGA Republicans can’t seem to settle on a budget plan. But whichever one they pick will be a five-alarm fire that threatens the health and safety of millions of Americans.”

Part of the White House’s approach can be attributed to the fact its own budget fails to address Social Security, instead pitching that Medicare’s Hospital Insurance Trust Fund be reinforced by increasing the Medicare tax rate for people earning more than $400,000 a year from 3.8% to 5% and the Hospital Insurance Trust Fund through savings from the Inflation Reduction Act’s prescription drug negotiation provisions.

During remarks in Las Vegas last week, Biden pointed to a new report that found 3.4 million Medicare recipients would have saved an average of almost $70 per person in 2021 had the Inflation Reduction Act’s free vaccines program been enacted already. The law additionally requires prescription drug companies to pay rebates to Medicare if they raise their prices faster than inflation, as happened with 1,200 drugs last year alone.

“The good news is that Eli Lilly, the biggest insulin maker in the United States of America, announced that they’re going to answer my call and they’re going to make the — this insulin available to everyone in America for $35,” he said. “And, yesterday, [Novo Nordisk], another drugmaker, announced they’re cutting their price of insulin as well.”

At the same time, Republican strategist John Feehery noted Biden and Democrats’ own Medicare Advantage policies. House GOP leadership-aligned 501(c)(4) organization American Action Network, for instance, has spent $2 million on TV and digital advertisements underlining how Democrats diverted $300 billion from Medicare in 2022, citing the Congressional Budget Office, and how the president’s Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services CY 2024 Advance Notice could decrease Medicare Advantage benefits by $540 or 29% per enrollee on average next year.

“They believe that the best defense is a good offense,” Feehery, a lobbying firm EFB Advocacy partner, said. “They are cutting Medicare Advantage, and they want to accuse the Republicans for cutting Medicare to insulate themselves from Republicans who should be attacking them not only for trying to hit Medicare advantage but also for hypocrisy.”

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Simultaneously, the White House is amid a drug shortage, with the American Society of Health-System Pharmacists advising the situation, affecting inhalation drug albuterol, attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder medication Adderall, and even common cancer treatments, is the worst it has been for a decade because of supply problems and increased demand.

“We are tracking these shortages of various drugs and are taking them very seriously,” a Biden spokeswoman told the Washington Examiner. “[The Food and Drug Administration] is tasked with monitoring and addressing supply disruptions and is working closely with numerous manufacturers and others in the supply chain to understand, mitigate, and prevent or reduce the impact of these shortages — using every lever at its disposal. The Biden-Harris administration is committed to ensuring Americans can access the medicine they need.” 

© 2023 Washington Examiner

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