President Joe Biden’s against high consumer-cost campaign is getting help from an unexpected source: corporate America. Only a few weeks after Biden used his State of the Union address to call for crackdowns on insulin prices and “junk fees,” a few businesses started to comply on their own. They are taking voluntary steps to reduce medical bills for patients and make it easier for families to fly together.
The moves have given Biden a surprise set of victories ahead of an expected reelection bid that will be based on his handling of the economy and rising consumer prices. And, within the White House, they’ve given new impetus to a broader domestic agenda focused on providing what the president frequently refers to as “a little bit of breathing room” for cash-strapped families.
“The president has made clear for over a year now that a top priority is bringing down costs for folks,” said Bharat Ramamurti, deputy director of the National Economic Council and one of the officials spearheading the junk fee initiative. “The fact he’s willing to sharply call out certain behavior and highlight it is encouraging these corporations — at least some of them — to come along with us.”
Companies’ recent moves have been modest, and they are the result of both corporate calculations and political pressure. Eli Lilly plans to lower insulin prices and cap out-of-pocket costs for privately insured patients at $35 per month, in line with a limit Democrats imposed on Medicare as part of last year’s Inflation Reduction Act. However, the discounts will only apply to older products, and the changes will have a minor impact on the company’s bottom line.
In a similar vein, three major airlines United, American, and Frontier are eliminating extra fees that parents frequently face in order to ensure they can sit with their children on flights, a practice that Biden slammed last month as treating children “like a piece of luggage.” Even, they keep the web of other seat and baggage fees that have become the industry standard.
Nonetheless, the announcements sparked celebrations in the West Wing, where aides believe competitors will now face increased pressure to follow suit and provide Biden with tangible new successes to tout.
Democrats have long targeted high pharmaceutical prices, in part because polls show that drug affordability is a major concern for voters on both sides of the aisle. Meanwhile, White House economic aides tasked with assembling Biden’s “junk fee” agenda focused on surprise fees that not only affect broader economic competition but are also the most likely to drive Americans insane.
“I do a lot of polling, and it’s rare to see policies that have this much universal consensus,” said Danielle Deiseroth, the interim executive director at Data for Progress. The progressive think tank published a post-State of the Union survey pegging voter support for banning such fees — like those tied to concert ticket purchases, hotel stays, and seating families together on airplanes — at nearly 80 percent. “Saving people money transcends party lines,” she said.