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Four years after being rivals, Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders partner to push for lower prescription drug costs

By Sam Fossum, Michael Williams, Tami Luhby and Arlette Saenz, CNN

Washington (CNN) — President Joe Biden teamed up Wednesday with Sen. Bernie Sanders, his one-time 2020 Democratic primary rival and a leader in Congress’ progressive wing, to promote efforts to lower the cost of prescription drugs, including inhalers, at a White House event on Wednesday.

The event gave Biden an opportunity to flex his progressive bonafides while also making the case to Americans that his administration has taken steps to lower health care costs. Biden on Wednesday credited Sanders with laying the groundwork for his administration’s health care policies – the independent senator’s focus on “Medicare for all” was a major focal point of the 2020 Democratic presidential campaign and helped shape much of the debate during that cycle.

At the time, the two men found themselves on opposite ends of the health care debate in the Democratic contest with Sanders pushing for a progressive plan of universal health care through Medicare for All and Biden taking a more moderate approach by campaigning on bolstering the Affordable Care Act.

Sanders has long decried the high prices Americans pay for drugs, grilling pharmaceutical company executives and releasing a multitude of bills to bring down medication costs. He even led a caravan to Canada in 2019 to give people with diabetes access to less expensive insulin.

Biden sought to align himself with the outspoken senator, saying Wednesday that the two have fought against high drug prices for 25 years and “beat Big Pharma finally.”

“I’m proud of my administration taking on Big Pharma in the most significant ways ever, and it wouldn’t have done without Bernie,” Biden said. “Bernie was the one who was leading the way for decades, which is why we’re here today.”

In his remarks, Biden also called for increasing the number of drugs that Medicare is allowed to negotiate. And with the general election in full swing, Biden also took the chance to swipe at his opponent and predecessor, former President Donald Trump.

“And by the way, the other guy talks about cutting the deficit – he increased the deficit more than any president has in history. And we’ve cut it,” Biden said. “All of our progress is in stark contrast to my predecessor and MAGA Republicans in Congress. They want to, quote, I love their word they love, they want to terminate the Affordable Care Act, I love it, terminate my –  as my predecessor says, kicking millions of Americans off their health insurance.”

Trump has talked about dismantling the Affordable Care Act if he were to win a second term, even as the landmark health care law signed by President Barack Obama in 2010 has proven to be popular among most Americans, including Republicans.

Both Biden and Sanders also called out congressional Republicans for voting against the Inflation Reduction Act in 2022, which gave Medicare the power to negotiate drug prices and capped the monthly cost of insulin at $35 and the annual out-of-pocket costs for drugs at $2,000 for Medicare enrollees. Biden also slammed Republicans on Capitol Hill for limiting the law’s provisions those covered by Medicare, rather than extending them to those with private insurance.

Wednesday’s appearance marks the latest push by the president to highlight cost saving measures Democrats have enacted as he looks to convince voters his policies are paying off for them even though few are aware of Biden’s efforts to lower drug costs.

Sanders, the chair of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, recently led an investigation into the four major manufacturers of inhalers and the high prices charged for the product. In his remarks, he gave credit to Biden, along with congressional Democrats, for taking multiple steps to start bringing down the cost of medications.

“Working together we can take on the greed of the pharmaceutical industry and substantially lower the cost of prescription drugs in America,” Sanders said. “And when we do that, we will be lowering the cost of health care in our country, which is double the cost of any other major nation on Earth.”

The list prices for the inhalers range between $200 and $600, though they cost less than $5 to produce, according to a White House official. Last month, three of the four largest inhaler manufacturers said they will cap the monthly cost at $35 for patients with private insurance. It does not apply to those with Medicare or other public coverage.

In November, the Federal Trade Commission challenged more than 100 patents held by manufacturers of brand-name asthma inhalers and other drugs as improperly or inaccurate listed in the Food and Drug Administration’s so-called “Orange Book.”

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