Fact Check: Former Rep. Walker's Claim About Biden Raising Drug Prices 'Mostly False'
A former Republican congressman who is running for U.S. Senate in 2022 says President Joe Biden is raising drug prices for some of the most vulnerable Americans.
Mark Walker represented North Carolina’s 6th U.S House District in the Greensboro area. In a tweet last month, he wrote that “the disdain for President Trump and his accomplishments are so deep that President Biden is raising the prices of insulin and Epi-Pens on those with high costs and the uninsured.”
WRAL’s Paul Specht joins us to assess that claim and another one by Charlotte's Rep. Alma Adams about student loan debt.
Marshall Terry: Paul, what is Walker talking about there in regard to former President Trump?
Paul Specht: In his tweet, he linked to a story about an executive order that President Trump signed before he left office — so, he signed it back in December. And that executive order requires all community health centers participating in a government discount program to provide those insulin and EpiPen discounts onto their patients.
The disdain for President Trump and his accomplishments are so deep that President Biden is raising the prices of insulin and Epi-Pens on those with high costs and the uninsured.— Mark Walker (@RepMarkWalker) January 22, 2021
Heartless punishing of North Carolinians for political gain.
This is wrong. https://t.co/9HG1fjCxtm
Terry: And how does President Biden factor into this now?
Specht: What happened was before Trump's order was supposed to take effect on Jan. 22, Biden obviously took office on the 20th, and his chief of staff froze all pending executive orders from the Trump administration. And so it's a little misleading to say that drug prices are going up when, in fact, they never went down through Trump's executive order in the first place.
Terry: So what did Walker mean by what he said, then, in that tweet?
Specht: What he meant was — and what his staff told me — was that people are still going to miss out on discounts through that program because Biden froze it. And it's frozen, we should say, until March 22, and that's when the Biden administration is supposed to make a final decision on whether or not they're going to allow Trump's order to go through. But there's something else to consider here.
The National Association of Community Health Centers told us they're already required to pass along those discounts, and, in fact, most of their centers are already doing so. In other words, if they get any extra money from insurance companies that reimburse them for insulin or EpiPens, they have to also use that money on their patients or their services. They can't just pocket it. And so, with that in mind, it appears as if Trump's order was going to have a very minimal effect already.
Terry: So, how did you rate this claim, then, by Walker?
Specht: We rated it mostly false. It has an element of truth here. It's possible that somewhere there's a center that wasn't providing the full discount on to its patients, but we didn't see evidence of that. And in fact, the community health center leaders say that they were already required to do that by law. Trump's order would have just required them to prove it, which they said would tie them up in red tape.
Terry: Let's move on to another tweet, this one from current 12th District Congresswoman Alma Adams. She wrote last week, "Almost 40% of borrowers with student loan debt didn't finish their degree." So what's the context there? Why did she tweet that out?
Specht: Congresswoman Adams is one of several Democrats who are calling on Congress and President Biden to cancel some student loan debt. This is a big issue. It's something that Biden has even talked about on the campaign trail. And so she wants him to follow through. That got our attention, and this particular stat got our attention because it's so specific.
Terry: And is it true? The stat?
Specht: Well, it is true — based on the available evidence. And there's not much evidence, I'll say. We reached out to multiple experts on the subject of student loans, student loan debt, and then the amount of people who graduate having that debt. Based on federal government data that tracked college students between 2011 and 2017, 38.6% of students ended up not graduating. Now, that doesn't mean they didn't go back after 2017 and finish their degree; it just means that in that six year window, they did not complete college.
Terry: As you said this week from Adams comes as lawmakers push for the cancellation of some student debt. As far as that argument goes, what difference does it make if students actually completed their degrees or not?
Specht: You know, that remains to be seen. If Congress decides to cancel some debt, we don't know what the parameters of that will look like. We don't know what it will take to qualify. We don't know if it'll only apply to public federal loans or if it'll also apply to private loans that were taken out. But for the sake of argument here, what it means is any bailout plan would not just affect people who went and graduated college. And those criticisms are on social media that, "Oh, this this might only help the college graduates; this might only help the people with white collar jobs." Adams is saying here: That's not true. There are people who took out loans that didn't end up getting the benefit of a college degree, and this would help them, too.
Terry: So how did you rate Adams' claim?
Specht: We rated this mostly true and mostly just because it's hard to definitively prove that this 40% number is 100% accurate, because there's so little data out there tracking the number of dropouts, if you will, with how much debt they owe. But what we do have here with this six-year window did cover a lot of people, so we consider it to be true.
Terry: Thanks, Paul.
Specht: Thank you.
These fact checks are a collaboration between PolitiFact and WRAL. You can hear them Wednesdays on WFAE's Morning Edition.