Seven ways President Biden could now change health care


4. Negotiating lower drug prices

Allowing Medicare to negotiate drug prices, a major plank in Mr. Biden’s campaign, would seem like a slam dunk for the Democrats. This approach is backed by 89% of Americans, including 84% of Republicans, according to a Kaiser Family Foundation survey in December.

“With that level of support, it’s hard to go wrong politically on this issue,” Mr. Levitt said.

Many Republicans, however, do not favor negotiating drug prices, and the two parties continue to be far apart on how to control drug prices. Trump signed an action that allows Americans to buy cheaper drugs abroad, an approach that Mr. Biden also supports, but it is now tied up in the courts.

“A drug pricing bill has always been difficult to pass,” Dr. Whitlock said. “The issue is popular with the public, but change does not come easily. The drug lobby is one the strongest in Washington, and now it may be even stronger, since it was the drug companies that gave us the COVID vaccines.”

Dr. Whitlock said Republicans will want Democrats to compromise on drug pricing, but he doubts they will do so. The House passed a bill to negotiate drug prices last year, which never was voted on in the Senate. “It is difficult to imagine that the Democrats will be able to move rightward from that House bill,” Dr. Whitlock said. “Democrats are likely to stand pat on drug pricing.”

5. Introducing a public option

President Biden’s campaign proposal for a public option – health insurance offered by the federal government – and to lower the age for Medicare eligibility from 65 years to 60 years, resulted from a compromise between two factions of the Democratic party on how to expand coverage.

Although Mr. Biden and other moderates wanted to focus on fixing the ACA, Democrats led by Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont called for a single-payer system, dubbed “Medicare for all.” A public option was seen as the middle ground between the two camps.

“A public option would be a very controversial,” Dr. Whitlock said. Critics say it would pay at Medicare rates, which would reduce doctors’ reimbursements, and save very little money compared with a single-payer system.

Dr. Pearl sees similar problems with lowering the Medicare age. “This would be an expensive change that the federal government could not afford, particularly with all the spending on the pandemic,” he said. “And it would be tough on doctors and hospitals, because Medicare pays less than the private insurance payment they are now getting.”

“The public option is likely to get serious discussion within the Democratic caucus and get onto the Senate floor,” Mr. Levitt said. “The party won’t ignore it.” He notes that in the new Senate, Sen. Sanders chairs the budget committee, and from that position he is likely to push for expanding access to care.

Mr. Levitt says the Biden CMS might allow states to experiment with a statewide public option or even a single-payer model, but he concedes that states, with their budgets ravaged by COVID-19, do not currently have the money to launch such programs.


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