'Corporate Greed': Biden, Sanders Tell Big Pharma to Stop 'Ripping Off' Americans

U.S. President Joe Biden and Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) walk across the South Lawn in April 2024. The two former rivals for the Democratic nomination wrote a joint op-ed on July 2, 2024 calling for tougher restrictions on Big Pharma price gouging.

(Photo: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

'Corporate Greed': Biden, Sanders Tell Big Pharma to Stop 'Ripping Off' Americans

Past administrations "have been intimidated and deterred from challenging Big Pharma's monopoly power," an expert said. "Today, however, President Biden and Sen. Bernie Sanders call Big Pharma's bullying bluff."

President Joe Biden and Sen. Bernie Sanders on Tuesday called for prescription drug companies to lower prices and stop "ripping off" Americans.

The message from Biden and Sanders (I-Vt.) came in a joint op-ed in USA Today in which they laid out the reforms they've already pushed through, called out two pharmaceutical companies in particular for the "unconscionably" high prices they charge to Americans, and vowed to take governmental action to end the "corporate greed."

"There is no rational reason why Americans, for decades, have been forced to pay, by far, the highest prices in the world for the prescription drugs they need," Biden and Sanders wrote. "There is no rational reason why, for decades, 1 out of 4 Americans have been unable to afford the medicine their doctors prescribe.

"And it is most certainly not Americans' patriotic duty to pay high drug prices at home so others abroad can enjoy the fair prices that every American is entitled to," they added.

Consumer rights groups celebrated the strong position that the president and the senator took.

"For decades, presidential administrations on a bipartisan basis have been intimidated and deterred from challenging Big Pharma's monopoly power," Robert Weissman, president of Public Citizen, an advocacy group, said in a statement. "Today, however, President Biden and Sen. Bernie Sanders call Big Pharma's bullying bluff."

Some progress has been made on prescription drug prices in the last four years, Biden and Sanders noted in their op-ed.

The Inflation Reduction Act, which they helped enact, established a price ceiling of $35 per month for insulin for senior citizens. And, starting in 2025, no senior citizen will have to pay more than $2,000 in prescription drug prices in a given year—a reform Biden and Sanders said they'd like to see apply to all Americans. Medicare can now also negotiate with pharmaceutical companies to lower prices, as other countries do.

Yet the problem of high drug prices remains, and Sanders has made solving it a priority, focusing on it as chair of the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committee. Last year, he wrote an op-ed in Fox News, calling the opposition to pharmaceutical company profiteering an issue on which Americans of all political stripes "could not be more united." He also released a report showing that medications made using publicly funded research were then being priced exorbitantly by private firms.

The Vermont Independent has also repeatedly grilled pharmaceutical executives in hearings over the last two years, but they have generally not committed to lowering prices, though some companies did institute caps on out-of-pocket expenses on inhalers.

In April, Sanders and Biden teamed up for an event at the White House to discuss the need to lower prescription drug prices.

"I'm proud that my administration is taking on Big Pharma in the most significant ways ever," Biden said at the event. "And I wouldn't have done it without Bernie... Bernie was the one who was leading the way for decades."

Tuesday's op-ed marks the continuation of their partnership on the issue, with Biden effectively endorsing Sanders' drug pricing agenda, particularly for obesity and diabetes medications. HELP launched an investigation into Novo Nordisk's pricing of Ozempic and Wegovy in April, and the Danish multinational was the primary example of wrongdoing chosen by Biden and Sanders in their op-ed.

Ozempic and Wegovy are up to six times more expensive in the U.S. than in peer countries, Biden and Sanders wrote.

"In 2023, for example, Novo Nordisk made over $12 billion in profits, in part by charging Americans over $1,000 a month for a prescription drug that can be profitably manufactured for less than $5. That is not making a reasonable return on investment. That is price gouging. That is corporate greed."

Sanders recently succeeded in pressuring Novo Nordisk CEO Lars Fruergaard Jørgensen to agree to testify in front of HELP in September.

Biden and Sanders noted that even just within obesity and diabetes care, the problem goes beyond Novo Nordisk: Eli Lilly's Mounjaro, a comparable weight-loss drug, is also overpriced. They argued that if the prices of such drugs are not lowered, they could bankrupt the U.S. healthcare system.

Biden then repeated the message through his own channels.

"If Big Pharma refuses to lower prescription drug prices and end their greed, we will do everything within our power to end it for them," Biden wrote on social media following the publication of the op-ed. "Bernie Sanders and I will not rest until every American can afford the prescriptions they need to lead healthy, happy, and productive lives."

Though the timing may be incidental, Biden's cooperation with Sanders, a leading progressive, comes during a week in which he needs to rally his base—a task Sanders is known to excel at. Biden faces widespread pressure to step aside from the presidential race following a subpar debate performance on Thursday night.

While progressives have been sharply critical of Biden on a range of issues, it's not clear whether his potential replacements at the top of the Democratic ticket would be so willing to team up with Sanders and call out corporate greed.

"Bernie Sanders and Joe Biden just co-authored a piece laying into big pharmaceutical companies for overcharging Americans on obesity drugs," Matt Stoller, a progressive commentator and research director of the American Economic Liberties Project, wrote on social media. "I realize Biden is senile, but would his replacements do anything like this? Most wouldn't."

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