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Defeat of Insulin Price Cap in Senate Draws Complaints From Patient Advocates

August 8, 2022 by Tom Ramstack
Insulin is displayed at Pucci's Pharmacy in Sacramento, Calif., July 8, 2022. (AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli, File)

WASHINGTON — A proposed $35 monthly cap on the price of insulin failed to win approval in the huge economic tax and spending package the Senate passed Sunday.

Republicans succeeded in removing the cap by inserting an amendment into the bill designed to fight climate change, increase corporate taxes and reduce health care costs.

Removal of the insulin price cap was one of 30 amendments to the $700 billion Inflation Reduction Act.

All Senate Republicans voted against the overall bill. They called it inflationary at a time the nation already is struggling with a weak economy.

Seven Republicans broke ranks and voted with Democrats to keep the insulin price ceiling.

The seven Republican senators who voted with Democrats were Sens. Bill Cassidy of Louisiana, Susan Collins of Maine, Josh Hawley of Missouri, Cindy Hyde-Smith of Mississippi, John Kennedy of Louisiana, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska and Dan Sullivan of Alaska.

Democrats needed at least 60 votes to defeat the amendment but instead the tally came in at 57-43.

President Joe Biden proposed the $35-a-month ceiling during his State of the Union address in February.

“Imagine what it’s like to look at your child who needs insulin and have no idea how you’re going to pay for it,” Biden said. “Let’s cap the cost of insulin at $35 a month so everyone can afford it.”

He had accused drug companies of price gouging. They still would do “very well” even with a $35 cap, he said.

Three companies manufacture insulin in the United States, namely Eli Lilly, Novo Nordisk and Sanofi. The manufacturing process is complex, resulting in minimal competition and high prices.

The backlash against Republicans continued Monday for cutting out the $35 price ceiling, which would have applied to people covered by Medicare as well as private health insurance.

Insulin is a hormone produced by the pancreas that regulates the body’s metabolism of food. Low levels of insulin are associated with diabetes mellitus, a condition of high blood sugar that is potentially fatal.

More than 34 million Americans suffer from diabetes, particularly in minority populations, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. About 7 million of them need insulin daily.

The price of the medication has nearly tripled in the United States in the past two decades but remained relatively inexpensive in other countries. A recent Yale University study showed 14% of patients using insulin pay more than 40% of their income remaining after food and housing on the medicine.

The 2018 average price per standard insulin unit ranged from $73 up to $119 in the United States, compared with $10 per unit in Australia, Canada and the U.K., according to a Rand Corporation study.

“American families with diabetes need help,” Caitlin Donovan, spokesperson for the National Patient Advocate Foundation, told The Well News.

“We know how hard it is for them to afford their medication,” she said. “We’d love to see some relief for them.”

She said she knew of some cases where diabetes patients strapped for money would organize informal groups to share insulin or medical supplies when one member of the group needed it while others had a surplus. Sometimes they would meet in parking lots, she said.

Democrats made an insulin price cap a significant portion of their health care reform proposals. They could not overcome the opposition of Republicans who said it could lead to more tax increases and higher insurance rates.

Democratic California state Sen. Scott Wiener, whose father relies on insulin, wondered how many people might die from what he called “insulin rationing” before Congress controls the price.

“It’s sickening to me that almost every single GOP senator — even those with family members who rely on insulin — voted against capping its price,” said Wiener.

The House had already passed its version of the Inflation Reduction Act. It retained the insulin price cap that now has been defeated by the Senate.

Tom can be reached at tom@thewellnews.com and @TomRamstack


Updates

This post has been updated to include names of senators who broke party ranks to vote with Democrats.

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