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President speaks in East Portland between events to boost Oregon party, Kotek bid for governor

President Joe Biden came to Oregon with a simple message: If Republicans win both houses of Congress on Nov. 8, they will attempt to do away with the changes that Democrats just secured to lower prescription drug prices and other costs.

Biden spoke Saturday, Oct. 15, to about 400 people at East Portland Community Center. He did so in between a Friday night gathering of Democratic campaign volunteers — he joined them in making phone calls to voters — and a Saturday fundraising reception on behalf of Democrat Tina Kotek's candidacy for governor. Kotek is in a tight race with Republican Christine Drazan for the position being vacated by Democrat Kate Brown, who is term limited.

Biden joined Democratic Sens. Ron Wyden and Jeff Merkley, and Rep. Suzanne Bonamici, to drive home some of the key health care provisions in omnibus legislation known as the Inflation Reduction Act. Though the legislation has drawn more attention for its $370 billion in incentives for carbon-free energy over a decade — the largest-ever federal commitment to climate-change measures — it contains other provisions:

PMG PHOTO: JOHN LARIVIERE - President Joe Biden speaks at East Portland Community Center Saturday, Oct. 15. Biden made a stop in Oregon  Oct. 14-15 to attend a campaign event alongside gubernatorial candidate Tina Kotek Friday, before addressing health care costs for American families at Saturday's main event.

• Renewed authority for Medicare, the federal health insurance program for people 65 and older and some people with disabilities to negotiate prices for selected drugs. Republican majorities in Congress did away with that authority in 2003, when it approved a prescription-drug benefit under Medicare.

• Penalties for drugmakers if they raise drug prices beyond the rate of inflation.

• A $2,000 annual cap on out-of-pocket drug costs for Medicare recipients, including 20,000 in Oregon.

• A $35 monthly cap on the cost of insulin for Medicare recipients, including 37,000 in Oregon. The cap originally passed by the House covered all insulin users, but the Senate limited it to Medicare only.

• An extension through 2025 of federal subsidies to enable people to buy individual health insurance premiums under the Affordable Care Act, which President Barack Obama signed in 2010 when Biden was vice president. It affects 146,000 in Oregon.

"Every single Democratic member of Congress voted for the Inflation Reduction Act. Every single Republican voted against it — every single one," Biden said. "Now congressional Republicans are telling us that if they win, their No. 1 priority is to repeal the Inflation Reduction Act. Let me be crystal clear about what that means.

"If Republicans in Congress have their way, it means the power we just gave Medicare to negotiate lower prescription drug prices goes away. Gone. The $2,000 cap on prescription drugs for seniors goes away. Gone. The $35-a-month cap on insulin goes away. Gone. Savings on health care premiums we just got for millions of Americans? Gone.

"And it's not just the Inflation Reduction Act they want to get rid of. They're still determined to get rid of the Affordable Care Act. That means an end to the protections for tens of millions of people."

PMG PHOTO: JOHN LARIVIERE - President Joe Biden addresses a crowd of around 400 people Saturday, Oct. 15, at East Portland Community Center.

Political stakes

Only a handful of seats separate the current Democratic majority from the Republican minority in the House — and the parties are contesting three open seats in Oregon. The Senate is split 50-50, although Wyden is expected to win a sixth full term and national observers rate it as safety Democratic.

Biden's term has two more years to run, so he still would be able to veto any Republican attempts to repeal those laws. Even when Donald Trump was president before Biden, Republicans failed to repeal the Affordable Care Act — all the attempts died when three Republicans sided with Democrats in 2017 — but Trump moved to weaken it administratively.

"It was important for the president to come here and call attention to this legislation," said Claire Syrett, who is the Eugene-Springfield negotiator for the Oregon Nurses Association and was a Eugene city councilor until recently.

Her comments were echoed by Arleta Christain, senior director for health and older adult services for the Urban League of Portland, who introduced Biden at the Portland talk.

In addition to the recent law, Biden just issued an executive order directing the Health and Human Services Department to come up with other ways to limit drug price increases. The plan is due in 90 days.

Biden also took note that monthly premiums for Medicare Part B, which pays for doctor visits, will be $164.90 as of Jan. 1, $5.20 less than this year. Medicare just began its open enrollment period. He also mentioned an 8.7% increase in Social Security payments next year, though the increase is tied to inflation — which Republicans have seized on as a midterm campaign issue.

PMG PHOTO: JOHN LARIVIERE - President Joe Biden stops for a photo with an attendee of Saturday's event at East Portland Community Center.

Others speak

Biden spoke for about 25 minutes. He made similar comments the previous day at a talk at Irvine Valley Community College in southern California.

Biden heaped praise on Wyden. They served 13 years together in the Senate, until Biden was elected vice president in 2008 after 36 years as a senator from Delaware.

"He has done more than anybody in Congress" with regard to drug prices and health care, Biden said, with the exception of the original Social Security Act (1935) and Medicare (1965).

As chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, which writes tax legislation and oversees Medicare and other major federal health insurance programs, Wyden said Biden was no bystander in the backstage discussions that finally resulted in congressional approval of the Inflation Reduction Act.

"Never has a president of the United States taken on Big Pharma like President Biden did in the State of the Union" earlier this year, Wyden said, when Biden called on Congress to act to lower prescription drug prices. "He came to play every single day," asking Wyden's advice on which members to call to persuade them to vote his way.

Wyden's reference was to the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers Association, which represents drugmakers and the industry.

"No one should have to choose between putting food on their table and getting the care they need," Bonamici said.

Merkley grew up in East Portland and still has a home there. in addition to remarks about health care, he gave a shout-out to nurses and others in the audience represented by labor unions, which generally have sided with Democrats.

"We have a president who does not shy away from talking about workers being able to organize," he said.

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