Then, last summer, Mr. Trump issued a bunch of executive orders aimed at forcing drug price reductions. In September his health secretary, Alex Azar, certified that importing prescription medicine from Canada “poses no additional risk to the public’s health and safety” and would result in “a significant reduction in the cost.” This statement, which previous health secretaries had declined to make, formally opened the door to importing medication. Millions of Americans, meanwhile, now illegally purchase prescription drugs from abroad because they cannot afford to buy them at home.
What should the Biden administration prioritize?
- Jason Cherkis writes that “along with increasing social mobility and addressing inequality, raising the minimum wage has the potential to lower the country’s suicide rate.”
- Chye-Ching Huang argues that one of the best ways for the president to pay for ambitious policies “and help honest taxpayers” is to restore the funding the I.R.S. needs “to effectively battle tax cheats.”
- Astra Taylor and Sandy Baum – a documentarian and activist and an economist – debate the merits of cancelling student debt on The Argument podcast.
- Tun Myint writes that “the United States needs to support the people of Myanmar not only because lives are in danger but also because the rise of autocratic governments around the world threatens the survival of democracies everywhere.”
In Congress, bills allowing prescription drug importation have for years gained bipartisan support, but without the go-ahead from the Department of Health and Human Services, they were nonstarters. Now a number of states are moving ahead with efforts to import drugs from Canada.
Mr. Biden said he supported the legalization of importing drugs during his presidential campaign. Mr. Becerra, Mr. Azar’s potential successor, voted for an importation bill in 2003 when he was a member of Congress.
But the drug lobby will no doubt prove a big obstacle: The Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America, an industry trade group, filed suit in federal court in November to stop the drug-purchasing initiatives. The industry has long argued that importation from even Canada would risk American lives.
Finally, shortly before the election, Mr. Trump issued an executive order paving the way for a “most favored nation” system that would ensure that the prices for certain drugs purchased by Medicare did not exceed the lowest price available in other developed countries. The industry responded with furious pushback, and a court quickly ruled against the measure.
Some of these initiatives, such as posting hospital prices, have already taken effect. But executive orders have limited power; some are stuck in court or require further governmental action to move forward. The Biden administration will have to decide which, if any, to pursue.
Mr. Biden’s proposals to get better, more affordable health care to every American are far more substantial — and disruptive to the health industry — than any of Mr. Trump’s efforts. But Mr. Biden may find it difficult to get support for his plans in a Congress that is narrowly controlled by Democrats. The Democratic Party has historically been friendly to the health care industry: According to the Center for Responsive Politics, 71 percent of the money spent by the pharmaceutical industry in the 2020 elections went to Democratic candidates. Mr. Biden raised twice as much money from hospitals and nursing homes during the 2020 presidential campaign as Mr. Trump. The health care industry is already aggressively advertising and lobbying against any sort of public option.