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Biden, Senator Bernie Sanders push companies to cut cost of asthma inhalers, prescription drugs

By Steve Holland and Nandita Bose

WASHINGTON (Reuters) -President Joe Biden hosted a White House event with U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders on Wednesday to tout their fight against high prescription drug prices and push companies to cut the cost of inhalers for asthma sufferers.

Biden said prescription drugs made by the same pharmaceutical company cost at least two to three times more in the U.S. than it does in developed countries such as Canada, Italy and France. He did not name the company.

“Drug companies are charging exorbitant, exorbitant prescription drug prices, higher prices than anywhere in the world,” he said. Biden added that his administration couldn’t have taken on the pharmaceutical industry without Sanders’ help.

Biden, a Democrat, has made lowering healthcare costs a key part of his 2024 reelection campaign. Sanders, as chairman of the U.S. Senate’s health committee, has already taken a series of actions – from sending letters to holding hearings – aimed at pressuring the pharmaceutical industry into lowering costs.

Biden said he wants to negotiate lower prices for 50 drugs and wants to limit drug costs for Americans, not just seniors, to $2,000 annually.

For example, the president said asthma is the most common respiratory illness, currently affecting 27 million Americans, including 4 million children. It takes less than $5 to make a dose of asthma medication; that cost hasn’t changed at all, but drug companies have raised prices to eight times their original cost.

One company charges $49 for an inhaler in the United Kingdom but charges Americans $645 for the same device, Biden said, without naming the company.

“It’s time drug companies pay rebates when they increase prices faster than inflation,” he said.

Sanders and other lawmakers in January criticized four makers of inhalers sold in the U.S. — AstraZeneca, Boehringer, Teva Pharmaceuticals and GSK — over prices that were much higher in the United States than in other countries.

In March, three of the four companies decided to cap inhaler costs at $35 each.

“Despite all that we have accomplished up to now, it is not enough. Much, much more needs to be done,” Sanders said of lowering prescription drug costs. “This is an issue that we must, must get a handle on.”

The Biden administration has sought to crack down on what it calls falsely claimed patents in an effort to increase competition to lower inhaler costs.

The president also highlighted successful efforts included in 2022’s Inflation Reduction Act that placed a $35 cap on insulin. He also pushed to increase the number of Medicare drugs the federal government can negotiate with pharmaceutical companies from 10 to 50.

Part of 2022’s Inflation Reduction Act allows Medicare to negotiate prices for prescription drugs that had been particularly expensive for the federal healthcare insurance program that covers millions of Americans aged 65 and older, as well as the disabled.

Sanders is one of three independents in the Senate but caucuses with the Democrats.

(Reporting by Steve Holland, Nandita Bose and Jarrett Renshaw; Editing by Mary Milliken, Michael Perry and Jonathan Oatis)

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