March 2, 2022
In President Joe Biden’s State of the Union address, the president recommitted to curbing the ever-rising cost of health care and underlined the need for greater access and affordability.
by Matt Dobias
In his annual State of the Union address, President Joe Biden identified an endgame for the COVID-19 pandemic, announcing a new shift in the way his Administration tackles the aftershocks of the virus while also encouraging a reboot of his stalled health care priorities.
As the president begins to rebuild his health care agenda, which is largely focused on drug pricing, extending the Affordable Care Act subsidies and improving access to care, it is clear he is focused on affordability for the American people.
Throughout the speech, the president noted that his top priority is “getting prices under control.” While the comments were made in a broader economic context, he could have just as easily been focused on the high-cost, low-value health system that, too, has driven up family debt.
And when the president said that he wants to “lower your costs, not your wages,” while the context was specific to inflation, payers, providers and employers would be wise to take note: These same words have historically been used to drive health care reform.
Health care economists have long championed wringing out unnecessary and potentially harmful care from the health system. By some estimates, doing so could save more than $300 billion each year while greatly increasing care quality. The impact of reducing low-value care would be both immediate and tangible — and it should be a concept that Congressional lawmakers embrace as they consider policies to drive down spending.
Biden sought to draw those same parallels in direct and indirect ways. He linked high-cost prescription drugs to higher rates of inflation, and he called for a cap on insulin prices. The president also reiterated his call for Medicare to negotiate drug costs. Importantly, he underscored the value of the temporary measures that make purchasing coverage on the Exchange an affordable reality for millions of Americans. Those provisions, he said, have resulted in savings of roughly $2,400 annually on health care premiums. Collectively, these policies can and do have a real impact on what consumers spend.
The shift from health policy that has been largely reactive in the wake of COVID must now embrace a system that — in the words of Dr. Mandy Cohen, chief executive officer of Aledade Care Solutions — “aligns incentives” so that care is delivered in an efficient and high-quality way.
It won’t be easy. The industry as we know it has an addiction to fee-for-service medicine. Biden understands this. Indeed, he fought similar battles as vice president during the framing of the Affordable Care Act.
Now, with a renewed domestic policy push that got a major boost in last night’s State of the Union speech, the Administration and Congress must show that those lessons stuck.