Biden's State of the Union: 10 healthcare takeaways

During his State of the Union address Feb. 7, President Joe Biden expressed optimism while highlighting efforts related to COVID-19, Medicare, the Affordable Care Act and other healthcare issues.

"As we gather here tonight, we're writing the next chapter in the great American story, a story of progress and resilience," President Biden said, according to a transcript published by The New York Times. "When world leaders ask me to define America, and they do, believe it or not, I say I can define it in one word, and I mean this: possibilities. We don't think anything is beyond our capacity. Everything is a possibility."

Here are 10 key healthcare takeaways from the speech with context:

1. COVID-19: "Today, COVID no longer controls our lives," President Biden said. He reported that COVID-19 deaths are down 90 percent, and the administration will soon end the public health emergency. More than 1 million Americans lost their lives to COVID-19, he acknowledged. 

2. Prescription drug costs: President Biden said the U.S. pays more for prescription drugs than any major country on Earth, using insulin costs to illustrate the point. One in 10 Americans have diabetes and rely on insulin — which drug companies have charged hundreds for, although it costs $10 a vial to make. 

The cost of insulin has been capped at $35 for seniors on Medicare, but this is not enough, President Biden said. He urged lawmakers to "finish the job," limiting insulin costs for all Americans. 

Out-of-pocket drug costs for seniors on Medicare have also been capped at $2,000 per year. If drug prices rise faster than inflation, drug companies will have to pay Medicare back the difference. 

President Biden said some lawmakers are threatening to repeal the Inflation Reduction Act, and said he would veto any actions to raise the price of prescription drugs. 

"Big pharma is still going to do very well," President Biden said. "I promise you all." 

3. Cancer Moonshot: President Biden highlighted the Cancer Moonshot initiative, which was reignited last year with the goal of cutting cancer death rates by at least 50 percent in the next 25 years. "Turn more cancers from death sentences to treatable diseases. Provide more support for patients and their families," he said during his speech. On Feb. 2, one year after reigniting the Cancer Moonshot goal, the White House announced 13 more initiatives related to the initiative.

4. Affordable Care Act: A record 16 million people are enrolled in ACA plans, President Biden said. Millions are saving $800 a year on their premiums under the Inflation Reduction Act, although the benefit expires after 2025. Once more, he urged lawmakers to "finish the job" and expand coverage to those left off Medicaid. 

5. Medicare: President Biden said he would not cut any Medicare or Social Security benefits, and he would strike down any law that tries to do so. 

Some lawmakers have proposed cutting these programs to prevent the U.S. from defaulting on its debt. President Biden says his fiscal plan, which will be revealed next month, will lower the deficit by $2 trillion while extending the Medicare Trust Fund by at least two decades. 

6. Opioid addiction: President Biden discussed efforts to tackle the opioid and overdose epidemic, including disrupting the trafficking, distribution and sale of fentanyl. Customs and Border Protection in the last year has seized 260,000 pounds of illicit drugs primarily at ports of entry on the U.S. border, including about 15,000 pounds of fentanyl, according to the White House. As part of continued efforts, the administration plans to provide 123 new large-scale scanners at Land Points of Entry along the Southwest Border by fiscal year 2026.

7. Reproductive and LGBTQ care: "Make no mistake," President Biden said, "If Congress passes a national abortion ban, I will veto it." 

He reinforced his and Vice President Kamala Harris' belief in "every woman's constitutional right to choose," and acknowledged "extreme" abortion bans in more than a dozen states. 

In the same segment, President Biden discussed passing the bipartisan Equality Act to "ensure LGBTQ young people, especially transgender young people, can live with safety and dignity." The updated legislation would codify protections for LGBTQ Americans in many public spheres — and comes at a time when gender-affirming care for transgender people is under fire in several states. 

8. Nursing homes: In October, the Biden administration announced more aggressive measures to increase accountability in nursing homes, including higher safety standards, minimum staffing requirements and incentivized quality performance through Medicare and Medicaid funding — as well as higher penalties for low-performing nursing homes that fail to improve by CMS standards. 

"We're protecting seniors' lives and life savings by cracking down on nursing homes that commit fraud, endanger patient safety, or prescribe drugs they don't need," President Biden said.

9. Surprise medical bills: The No Surprises Act, a bipartisan law passed in late 2020 during the Trump administration, took effect Jan. 1, 2022. It protects patients from out-of-network bills for emergency care and other services. 

"We're already preventing insurance companies from sending surprise medical bills, stopping 1 million surprise bills a month," President Biden said. 

10. Research advancements: President Biden touted research advancements for multiple diseases: Alzheimer's, diabetes, HIV and AIDS. 

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