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Biden Lays Out Plan to Lower Prescription Drug Prices; U.S. May Move Embassy to Kabul Airport as Taliban Close In; 26 Arizona Republicans Urge Governor to Withhold Public Funding from Schools Requiring Masks. Aired 1:30-2p ET

Aired August 12, 2021 - 13:30   ET



JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: When she was 11, she was diagnosed with type one diabetes. For nearly 50 years, she's had to take insulin to stay alive.

But you know what she told me? She said she don't worry about becoming blind or her blood sugar dropping dangerously low, The natural worries of anyone with type one diabetes. She worries about being able to pay for her prescription drugs.

During our conversation, she pulled out a vile of insulin from her bag. In 2001, she said, that single vial cost $32 a bottle. Today, that exact same bottle, with the same exact formula, no changes, costs $280 per bottle.

Gayle and her husband work hard. They spend wisely. Because they're cost of prescription drugs, her husband may not be able to retire.

They drive the same car she said she's had for 17 years. Unable to afford repairs or a new one.

And Gayle is not alone. It is estimated that more than 34 million Americans, 10 percent of the population of the United States, have diabetes. including more than 1.5 million of those that have type one diabetes.

And the outrageous cost effecting everyone across the board spending every kind of conditional disease is similar.

I remember what it was like for my mom as she got older and moved in with us.

Her prescription drugs were so expensive it took me, my two brothers and my sister, three siblings, chipping in to cover the thousands of dollars in monthly cost that she had to exhaust -- rather than exhaust the little savings she had for her prescription drugs.

It is personal to so many of us. And so many of you. You know, for more than one million Americans living with multiple

sclerosis, one common drug for that disease costs $7,100 per month. The price has gone up 1,000 percent over the last 20 years without any change in the drug.

For more than one million people with rheumatoid arthritis, the common prescription drug used to cost about $1,350 per month. That was when it was introduced back in 2003. Today. the same drug costs $7,700 per month, over five times more expensive without any change.

For years, so many prescription drugs have dramatically outpaced inflation.

These prices put the squeeze on too many families and stripped them of their dignity. They've been forced people into terrible choices between maintaining their health, paying their rent or the mortgage, putting food on the table. I mean literally.

And that is the case for a lot of working families and seniors even if you could get the care you need.

But today, working families and too many seniors are struggling to make it work.

Today, one in four Americans who take prescription drugs struggling to afford them. Nearly 30 percent has skipped doses, cut pills in half, or because they can't afford the cost.

We have to change this. And we can.

My administration is already taken significant steps to lower the cost of prescription drugs.

Last month, I signed an executive order that has the effect of improving competition in the economy which resulted in lower prescription drug costs.

Right now, when a drug company seeks permission from the FDA, the Food and Drug Administration, for a certain drug to get a patent, it is allowed to exclusively sell that drug without competition for up to 12 years.

When that time period expires, other companies can come along and make the same exact drug and sell it cheaper. It is called generic drug.

But unfortunately, it often takes a long time, years and years, for this to happen.

That is why I've instructed the Federal Drug Administration to get the genetic drugs to consumers faster. This is going to increase competition. Lower drug prices for everyone.

Research shows that the prices could be cut by 25 percent to 33 percent and save $54 billion for consumers over the next 10 days. It makes a gigantic difference for an average family.


Secondly, I've ordered the FDA to work with states and tribes to import prescription drugs safely from Canada. These are drugs that the FDA has determined are safe. And they're going to make sure that the drugs get to the states and tribes safely.

Colorado estimates that their version of the drug importation program is going to save $35 million to $60 million a year for people in Colorado, cutting the prices down by more than 60 percent for the cost of the same drug.

These things -- by the way, you know, the company that is making these drugs and charging exorbitant prices are selling the same drug in other countries at considerably lower prices.

It is not like there's another company always making this drug. Same outfit. These things by themselves will be a great help.

But the really -- to really solve the problem, we need Congress to act. That is my Build Back Better Plan will do.

Now, there's long been talk, a mean a long time since the days when I was back in the Senate, about giving Medicare the power to negotiate lower drug prices.

Now Medicare takes care of millions of people. Medicare, my plan is going to allow that.

Every other type of health care service from the cost of a doctors or how much a doctor could charge for a visit, hospital visit, crutches and wheelchairs, Medicare is allowed to negotiate and say we'll pay no more for the Medicare than the following amount for those things.

As I said before, the only thing Medicare is not allowed to negotiate is prices for prescription drugs. My plan gets rid of that prohibition.

The proposal I made while I was running for president is that Medicare should negotiate drug prices across the board.

Congress is currently debating more narrow vision, letting Medicare negotiate some of the most expensive drugs, particularly from those companies that don't face competition for that's drug.

We're going to provide the competition through -- we're going to provide that competition through Medicare. Medicare is going to negotiate a fair price.

Right now, drug companies will set a price at whatever the market will bear.

So some of you may remember when I have the moon shot going when I was vice president, I met with 12 drug companies and I agreed I would not name them at the time. I just had a private discussion.

I said if any one of you came up with a drug that cured a particular type of cancer, what do you think you should be able to charge for it. And they said whatever the market would bear. Whatever it will bear.

But that often means significant number of people can't afford it. Under any circumstance. And they'll die without it. That is unacceptable.

What we're proposing is that it will negotiate a base -- negotiate with the company based on a fair price. One that reflects the cost of the research and development, and the need providing for a significant profit, but that is still affordable for consumers.

And by the way, if there's a significant amount that is invested in it, and a fair price is very expensive, we're going to have to figure out how society could provide for that drug that will save lives if people can't afford it.

But that is what we're trying to get done and it has to get done. And it has to get done.

But not only at my plan caps the amount that seniors have to spend on prescription drugs each year, at no more than about $3,000 a year, our plan says that drug companies can only raise prices based on the rate of inflation after it is determined how much they've invested and what a healthy profit constitutes.

Studies have shown that if we do this we could save seniors thousands of dollars a year.

For example, an expensive drug for cancer called multiple myeloma can cost $20,000 a month, $20,000 a month. People who need that drug pay an average of $1,300 a month out of pocket. Even with Medicare.

What I'm proposing would reduce the total cost by thousands of dollars and seniors would not pay more than $250 a month on average. That would be a game-changer.


And by the way, it isn't just seniors who benefit. This would lower prescription drug prices for all Americans.

And here is how. If Medicare prices are available to private insurance companies, then it would reduce the cost of employer-based health insurance coverage.

What that means is, once Medicare negotiates a better drug price for beneficiaries, an employer-based plan shouldn't have to keep paying whatever the drug company demands. They should get access to the same drug and the same price as Medicare.

So if you're not on Medicare, you get your prescription drugs through your employer-based plan, your plan should pay the same price for that drug as someone or Medicare.

That means drug companies would have to sell drugs to all distributors at the Medicare price or face up to a 95 percent excise tax.

The savings for employers and employees would be billions of dollars a year.

We don't have to stop there. My plan expands Medicare by adding dental, vision and hearing, which should make a world of difference for millions of people.

We could take some of that savings, created when Medicare is no longer forced to overpay prescription drugs, and use it to pay for these additional benefits and reduce premiums an improve access for people with coverage on Medicaid and the Affordable Care Act.

You know, at the same time, we can invest in medical breakthroughs that will also reduce the cost and save lives.

Right now, when Americans overpay for prescription drugs, too many pharmaceutical companies don't use the profit nearly enough to innovate or research.

Too many companies use it to buy back their own stock, inflate their worth, drive up CEO salaries and compensation, and find ways to box out the competition.

In fact, according to one study, from 2016 to 2020, pharmaceutical companies spent $577 billion in stock buybacks and dividends, $56 billion more than what they spent on all research and development over that same period of time.

Look, folks, they should be able to make a significant profit. Why should we be paying two or three times what every other country in the world is paying for a similar drug? There's so much we can do.

For example, at the Defense Department, those of you covered in the defense area, there's something called DARPA, the Defense Advanced Research Project Agency.

Set up exclusively within the Defense Department to seek out the cutting-edge research projects that enhance our national security. And outfit that came up with the Internet, GPA, and a lot of stealth technology, a lot of stealthy -- a lot of things.

I'm proposing we do a similar thing.

I propose we spend $6.5 billion for a similar agency within the National Institute of Health, the NIH, called Advance Research Project Agency, ARPA H, like DARPA, to help speed cutting-edge research and how to detect, treat, and cure diseases like Alzheimer's, diabetes and cancer.

It is personal to so many people out there. And we can do this.

I'm not criticizing companies that aren't prepared to spend billions of dollars on certain projects for research. I get it. But if they're not, we should, to make sure that the Americans are covered.

And here is one other big thing that will help millions of Americans afford prescription drugs. Getting them affordable health insurance.

If anyone is worried about getting health insurance during the pandemic, there's help, today.

For those who get their insurance through the Affordable Care Act, we're covering more people with better benefits and with the premiums 40 percent lower.

That means the average premium has been cut by -- from $104 a month, to $62 a month. So $62 a month for quality health insurance that covers doctor's visits, hospital care, prescription drugs.


In fact, one-third of the consumers are buying plans through the Affordable Care Act for less than $10 a month.

Early this week, I announced that more than 2,500,000 Americans have signed up for coverage under the Affordable Care Act since I called for this special enrollment period during this pandemic.

Folks, if you don't have insurance, you can still sign up under the Affordable Care Act through Sunday, August 15th. Just go to today and get covered.

To all of those folks expressing concern about rising costs for families, I urge you to support these basic reforms.

It will allow drug companies to still make billions of dollars, as they have the right to do, but will address one of the largest out-of- pocket expenses that families face, prescription drugs.

We can do this.

Let me close with this. I've long said health care should be a right not a privilege in this country.

With my Build Back Better Plan, we have an opportunity to come together and get us even closer to that reality. And the American people support it by overwhelming bipartisan margins.

This isn't a partisan issue. Alzheimer's, diabetes, cancer, they don't care if you're a Democrat or Republican. This is about whether or not you and your loved ones can afford prescription drugs that you need.

I look forward to Congress getting this done.

And there's another area -- this is another area where you can come together and make a difference in people's lives.

Thank you. May God bless you. May God protect our troops. Thank you.


ANA CABRERA, CNN HOST: You just heard the president laying out his plan to lower of the cost of prescription drugs, saying that U.S. has the highest cost of prescription drugs, higher than any other developed country in the world. This is also part of his effort to sell Americans on this next big

spending package, part of his Build Back Better Plan that is currently a $3.5 trillion package Democrats are hoping to pass in the coming weeks.

We have much more just ahead. More breaking news on the dire situation in Afghanistan as the Taliban take more territory, close in on the capital.

Up next, we have new details on how the U.S. is trying to keep Americans there safe and some moves they are contemplating about the U.S. embassy.

Stay with us.



CABRERA: We're back with more breaking news from Afghanistan. The U.S. considering relocating its embassy to the Kabul airport as the Taliban closes in on that city.

Let's get to CNN's Kylie Atwood at the State Department.

What have you learned?

KYLIE ATWOOD, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: We are learning that U.S. officials are considering relocating that U.S. embassy in Kabul to the airport in Kabul.

That would make it easier, of course, for those diplomats, for those U.S. personnel to get out of the country quickly if they needed to do so.

We have also learned it is expected that a number of those U.S. personnel based at that embassy in Kabul are going to be drawn down in the coming days and weeks.

That is something that has been under discussion. We should note, however, that all of this is a very fluid discussion right now, Ana.

National security officials in the Biden administration have been discussing this throughout the day.

And as one U.S. official however acknowledged to my colleague, Phil Mattingly, the discussions that are happening right now are happening at a dramatically different tempo than they have in the past.

We just saw President Biden speak. He did not address what is happening in Afghanistan right now.

But as we know, Ana, very active discussions happening within his administration, all aimed at one thing, to keep U.S. personnel in Afghanistan safe as the Taliban gains continue to surge in the country. CABRERA: And we've been hearing from the Pentagon and the president

himself in the last 24 hours that there are no plans to put more U.S. troops back on the ground there in Afghanistan.

Kylie Atwood, thank you for the update.

Back here in the U.S., 26 Arizona Republican lawmakers are now urging the governor of Arizona to withhold public funding from school systems that require masks for students and teachers.

They're also urging the governor to provide vouchers to families with students in those districts, to send a letter to family reminding them about the mask mandate ban, and initiate legal action against school districts that are not compliant.

Joining us now is Gabriel Trujillo. He's the superintendent for the Tucson Unified School District in Arizona, which is one of several districts in the state requiring masks.

I guess the question, first off, is does this change anything in your district?



No, it doesn't.

What we here in the Tucson Unified School District firmly believe and firmly stand on strong legal footing is that Senate Bill 2898, the legislation enacted by this legislature and supported by this governor, banning mask mandates and stealing away local control from school boards and local governments, violates the Arizona constitution.

The Arizona constitution requires a 90-day wait period for any new piece of legislation to go into effect. Ninety days from the end of the legislative session.


TRUJILLO: That would make this law enactive until September 29th.

CABRERA: So what I'm hearing you say is the legal response to their arguments that they're putting out.

I'm curious to get your thoughts on this part of the letter that they've sent to the governor.

It reads that issuing a mask mandate, quote, "borders on anarchy and destabilizes the very foundation of our society to have local governments effectively refusing to comply with the law. It must not be allowed to stand."

Borders on anarchy, destabilizes the very foundation of society? How do you respond?

TRUJILLO: That's unfortunate.

This is a public health crisis, and we here in the Tucson Unified community have made a pledge to the 42,000 students we serve and the 8,000 employees that call us home to view every aspect of this pandemic as a public health crisis.

The number-one mitigation strategy that we have been able to employ to keep transmission rates down in Pima County, in the city of Tucson, in our district, has been universal masking.

Right now, the Delta variant is rampaging through our community. We are closing in on 500 positive cases of COVID-19 for elementary-aged children, younger than the age of 12.

This is a very, very serious health threat. And we believe that we are doing what we need to do to keep our employees and our kids safe.

And regardless of the blusters or the language of the letter, we return to the constitutionality of this legislation that was passed.

And we stand firm in our belief that this law does not exist at this particular time.

CABRERA: I really want to put the facts first in this because, nationwide, there's evidence, that school districts that have mask requirements have been more successful at keeping students in the classrooms than districts that don't have these mask requirements.

Mississippi already has 4,400 students in quarantine because of COVID outbreaks.

Even there, in your state of Arizona, fifth and sixth grade students at one elementary school are back in remote learning two weeks into the school year because of COVID cases.

Why do you think Republican lawmakers are going there?

TRUJILLO: This is the further politicization of this pandemic that panders to the extreme right wing.

And, unfortunately, the Republican legislature here in the state of Arizona, instead of joining the rest of the state in working together to handle this pandemic through the lens of a public health crisis, is choosing to politicize the pandemic and throw red meat to the far right-wing base that continues to make noise about mask mandates throughout our state.

Our governor, who promised local control and autonomy for local school boards and superintendents so that we could navigate the waters of the pandemic according to local conditions, has done a stunning about face and has supported the banning of mask mandates of local school boards.

Similar to what we have seen from the governor of Florida and the governor of Texas. And it is a contradiction to a legislature and a governor who touted local control.

CABRERA: I want to get to what we saw in Tennessee this week, which was a district that voted to require masks at their elementary schools.

And one parent, who is a doctor, stood up to explain why he supports mask at a board meeting and he was actually threatened by people there.

Listen to this.


DR. BRITT MAXWELL, ADVOCATED FOR MASK MANDATE AT A TN SCHOOL BOARD MEETING: Before we walked out we had to brace ourselves. I took my wife's arm and I said, just remember, no matter what they say these are the lives we are trying to save and we walked out.

And I was approached and someone put their hand in my face and called me a traitor, which I don't see how that's -- how anyone can say that when I've been on the front lines of this pandemic since the beginning.


CABRERA: And he and other parents who supported masks were told as they were leaving by angry parents, quote, "We will find you."

I only have about 30 seconds, but have you personally experienced anything like that, any threats?

TRUJILLO: Unfortunately, I have, Ana. I've been called a Socialist, a Communist, obscenities yelled out at me as I shopped at local grocery stores.


And again, it is just absolutely unfortunate that this public health crisis has become another theater in the ongoing culture wars here in this country.

And it shouldn't be. We should all be able to come together around public health.