February 9, 2023
As two pillars of the Unity Agenda set out by the President last year, mental health and fighting the opioid crisis both received a significant amount of attention in both of these aspects of the President's speech, but came late in the speech. After noting many policy changes in the broader healthcare arena, such as stopping surprise medical bills and lowering healthcare costs via the Inflation Reduction Act, which included several provisions solely affecting Medicare beneficiaries (a $35 cap on insulin and $2,000 annual cap for prescription drug costs), President Biden spoke of how these and other policies will be paid for. With a repeated message of wealthy individuals and big corporations needing to pay their fair share, he cited the 15 percent minimum tax for corporations he signed into law and asked Congress to now pass the billionaires' tax.
After noting the $1.7 trillion reduction in the deficit achieved over the past two years, President Biden moved to urging Congress to raise the debt ceiling without holding Medicare and Social Security hostage. This elicited much heckling, which the President turned to his advantage, eventually landing at the point where he said, "We have unanimity" in agreeing Social Security and Medicare are off the table and actually having almost every person literally "standing for seniors".
Before getting to his Unity Agenda, the President focused attention on many other areas where he wants to "finish the job". These included: making education affordable; reducing student debt; monitoring COVID and potential new pandemics and supporting new vaccines; police reform; banning assault weapons; providing a pathway to citizenship; and passing the bipartisan Equality Act, among other items.
It was toward the end of his speech that the President turned to the Unity Agenda he had set out during his 2022 State of the Union address. The four pillars of this agenda are: Addressing Addiction and the Overdose Epidemic; Address Our National Mental Health Crisis; Support our Veterans; and End Cancer as We Know It. Noting some accomplishments in each area, including making it easier for doctors to prescribe buprenorphine, the President stated that there is "so much more to do". He spoke of stopping fentanyl at the border, providing greater access to mental health care in schools, expanding screening for our veterans and recruiting peers to serve them. He also said this year, his Administration will invest in an expansion of the crisis care workforce; scale mobile crisis intervention services; develop additional guidance on best practices in crisis response; and increase funding to recruit future mental health professionals from Historically Black Colleges and Universities. For a more complete list of the President's plans for tackling mental health and the opioid crisis, see this fact sheet on all four pillars of the Unity Agenda from the White House.
The President concluded on a hopeful, optimistic, bipartisan note stating, "There is nothing beyond our capacity if we do it together."
You can read President Biden's full remarks (as prepared for delivery) here.