President Joe Biden’s State of the Union address Thursday night covered numerous priorities for the White House, with healthcare being chief among them.

Biden touted the continued impact of the Affordable Care Act, his administration’s recent moves on drug pricing and his ambitions to protect reproductive rights.

Notably, Biden doubled down on drug pricing and pushed for more reform beyond what has already been passed in the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA).

Still, he left out other key health issues, including mental health, the opioid epidemic, pandemic preparedness and cancer. 

Here are the main takeaways for healthcare marketers as the nation heads into the election season.

1. Medicare negotiations and drug prices

One of Biden’s main talking points during this year’s address was heralding his administration’s track record of enacting drug pricing reform under the IRA.

Through the landmark bill — which gave Medicare the power to negotiate the cost of certain prescription drugs and provided a $2,000 out-of-pocket cap on medications under Medicare — Biden argued that “we finally beat Big Pharma.”

Biden also noted that Medicare’s new negotiating provision is expected to cut the federal deficit by $160 billion and save the federal health program money.

However, he also said that wasn’t enough and pushed for more drug pricing reform. He called on Congress to give Medicare the authority to negotiate prices for up to 50 drugs per year, which is an increase from its current 20 drugs per year limit.

“It’s now time to go further and give Medicare the power to negotiate lower prices for 500 different drugs over the next decade,” Biden stated.

He also pushed for an extension of the current $2,000 per year cap on Medicare prescription drugs for everyone on private insurance.

Leslie Isenegger, practice leader for corporate pricing and Public Affairs at Real Chemistry, noted that Biden’s focus on drug costs in the State of the Union was expected, given that he has used it during the primary leg of his reelection campaign.

“The idea of running on lowering drug costs is something we’re fully anticipating President Biden, as well as a lot of sitting Democrats, to run on,” Isenegger said. “It’s a mainstream issue that always polls well on both sides of the aisle.”

Still, challenges remain for the Biden administration when it comes to drug pricing reform. 

For one, it’s too early for patients to feel the beneficial results of Medicare’s new drug pricing provision, as new prices won’t be implemented until 2026.

It’s also possible that individuals won’t necessarily experience those benefits directly, as Isenegger pointed out.

“Saying Medicare is going to save money does not mean the individual patient is going to save money,” Isenegger explained. “The challenge for the president and for other Democrats who are running on that messaging is that health policy is so complicated that people are not seeing that [immediate cost] relief. I don’t know if saying, ‘We got the legislation passed,’ is going to be impactful to the individual voters.”

2. Affordable Care Act

Perhaps in a surprise move, Biden frequently referenced the ACA throughout his speech.

“Folks, the Affordable Care Act, the old Obamacare, is still a very big deal,” Biden said. “Over 100 million of you can no longer be denied health insurance because of pre-existing conditions.”

Biden also referred to former president Donald Trump’s recent comments about wanting to bring back the ACA debate. In Truth Social posts late last year, Trump argued that he wanted to replace Obamacare “with much better healthcare.”

“I am not going to let that happen,” Biden noted in his address. “We stopped you 50 times before and we will stop you again. In fact, I am not only protecting it, I am expanding it.”

Isenegger noted that touting the ACA may also serve as an aspect of Biden’s upcoming presidential campaign.

“I thought it was interesting that he made some references to the ACA, like, ‘Hey, I was part of that, too. And you guys really liked that,’” she explained. “That shows how long the tail on policy needs to be. Because by the time you implement anything, [the benefits are felt] two administrations down the road.”

3. Reproductive rights, abortion and IVF

Unsurprisingly, Biden also focused heavily on reproductive rights, given the ongoing abortion debate since Roe v. Wade was overturned in 2022

He referred to the repealing of the landmark court case — and the subsequent reproductive health bans and restrictions — as an “assault on freedom.”

Biden detailed the story of Latorya Beasley, a social worker from Alabama, who was unable to follow through with in vitro fertilization (IVF) treatments for her second child after the Alabama Supreme Court recently ruled that embryos are considered children. The state’s IVF clinics subsequently paused treatments and services until the governor signed in a law loosening some restrictions.

“Guarantee the right to IVF,” Biden pressed. “Guarantee it nationwide.”

Biden also highlighted the issue as being a main point of his campaign. 

“Clearly, those bragging about overturning Roe v. Wade have no clue about the power of women,” Biden added. “But they found out when reproductive freedom was on the ballot. We won in 2022 and 2023, and we will win again in 2024.”

Biden also announced the launch of the first White House Initiative on Women’s Health Research, led by First Lady Jill Biden. The $12 billion initiative would aim to “transform women’s health research and benefit millions of lives across America.”

4. Health issues left out

Interestingly, however, Biden left out various health issues — including the mental health crisis and workforce shortage, legislative proposals to target the opioid epidemic and Biden’s cancer moonshot initiative. 

Tellingly, the word “COVID” was only used once in Biden’s speech — when he noted that “the vaccines that saved us from COVID are now being used to beat cancer.”

Biden briefly touched on the mental health crisis, urging that “we have to help cities invest in more community police officers, more mental health workers, more community violence intervention.”

However, he did not highlight any specific bills or legislation that would address that.

5. Takeaways for healthcare marketers

Especially as the 2024 election cycle looms, healthcare marketers have an important role to play in breaking down policy conversations, Isenegger noted.

She pointed to the narrative in Congress around Big Pharma being called out for high drug costs, as one area where healthcare marketers can have an impact.

“Biden called out Big Pharma multiple times last night, and he’s setting Big Pharma up as a monolithic industry that’s out to get insane profits,” she said. “A mistake that pharma can make is letting the industry trade association be the spokesperson to counter that narrative.”

Discussing the IRA’s implications on both patients and industry, for example, is one area where each pharma company may have a unique take.

“There isn’t just one ‘Big Pharma.’ There are a lot of different kinds of pharma companies that deal with many different kinds of disease and patients,” Isenegger said. “If pharma marketers can help their organizations tell that more personal story, and tell it on a more granular level — tell it to the patients they’re serving, about what the fears are, and the concerns that they have about the law — I think that’s a much more compelling story to tell.”