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Biden focuses on health care, but pharma firms have upper hand

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Rachel Rhodes

President-elect Joe Biden began transition planning with the announcement of a COVID-19 task force, continuing a focus on health care that was a hallmark of the Obama-Biden era, culminating in the passing of the Affordable Care Act.  


Colleen Carey

Assistant Professor of Policy Analysis & Management

Colleen Carey, professor of policy analysis and management at Cornell University, studies publicly subsidized health insurance markets and the pharmaceutical industry. She says Biden may be in a strange position with the pharmaceutical industry come January, as President Trump pursued policies unfavorable to pharmaceutical companies, even as those same companies drive the development of a coronavirus vaccine.

Carey says:

President-elect Biden is going to find himself in a strange position with respect to the pharmaceutical industry when he takes office in January. Five years ago, Rep. Ro Khanna and Sen. Bernie Sanders proposed legislation that would have allowed imports from Canada and limited prices for some Medicare drugs to the prices paid in European countries, a price cut of about 25%. In the 2015 context of a Republican House and Senate, it's unsurprising that that bill went nowhere.

“Today, the Trump administration has pushed toward both of these goals. Six states, including the Republican-held state of Florida, have pursued a pathway created by the Trump administration to purchase drugs from Canada for state employees and state Medicaid enrollees. The Trump administration also recently unveiled a Medicare drug pricing proposal that would cut the prices of these drugs by as much as two-thirds. 

“In principle, Biden could let these proposals continue, and frame it as a continuation of Trump policies that advance long-held goals of the Democratic left. On the other hand, those same pharmaceutical companies will be poised to deliver vaccines and therapeutics that could let the country emerge from the pandemic. Their bargaining position has never been better, and their key ask is going to be the end of Canadian importation plans and the continuation of high prices for Medicare drugs.” 

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