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House to Vote on Insulin Price Reduction Bill Thursday

March 30, 2022 by Dan McCue
House to Vote on Insulin Price Reduction Bill Thursday
A patient holds a vial of insulin during a news conference outside the Olde Walkerville Pharmacy, July 28, 2019, in Windsor, Canada. (AP Photo/Carlos Osorio, File)

WASHINGTON — The House on Thursday is expected to vote to cap the out-of-pocket cost of insulin for consumers at $35 per month. If also passed by the Senate, which is expected to vote the measure up by Easter, the long-awaited reform will go into effect in 2023.

Speaking with reporters on Wednesday, House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, D-Md., said insulin — a critical medicine for diabetics, in particular — has been “outrageously overpriced” for years, especially for a drug that has been “off protections by copyright for a long period of time.”

H.R. 6833, the Affordable Insulin Now Act, was introduced by Reps. Angie Craig, D-Minn., Dan Kildee, D-Mich., and Lucy McBath, D-Ga., in the House, and currently has 28 co-sponsors in the chamber.

A companion bill, S.3700, also called the Affordable Insulin Now Act, was introduced by Sen. Raphael Warnock, D-Ga., last month, and currently has 34 co-sponsors in that chamber.

According to the lawmakers, the costs to treat diabetes and other life-threatening ailments have skyrocketed in recent years. 

They cite the findings of the Health Care Costs Institute, an independent nonprofit based in Washington, D.C., which found insulin prices nearly doubled from 2012 to 2016, with the average price for a 40-day supply of insulin increasing from $344 to $666. 

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, medical costs, lost work and wages for people with diagnosed diabetes total $327 billion yearly, and the American Diabetes Association has asserted that diabetics account for $1 of every $4 spent on health care in the United States.

“Every day, thousands of Minnesotans and millions of Americans struggle to obtain potentially lifesaving drug treatments due to the skyrocketing cost of insulin, which has more than doubled in the past few years alone,” Craig said at the bill’s introduction.

“Right now, Minnesotans are rationing their treatments and risking their own lives simply because Congress cannot take meaningful action to lower the cost of insulin,” she said. 

“Insulin must be affordable and accessible for every citizen who needs it,” McBath agreed. “Tragically, that is not the case for so many Americans across the country, including many right here in my own district.”

As for the House vote itself, Hoyer told The Well News that he hopes the bill will have strong bipartisan support.

“It ought to have 435 people voting for this in the House, and there ought to be 100 people voting for it in the Senate,” he said.

“It is just inexcusable for a drug that has been off patent for decades to cost this much,” he said. “Here we have a lifesaving and life-sustaining drug for which the costs of production have not increased and whose research costs had been amortized a very long time ago,” he said.

“And of course, the most egregious example of what has happened to the cost of insulin is when somebody bought the company that was producing it, and abruptly raised the cost to $800 a month,” Hoyer continued. “That’s unjustifiable.”

Hoyer also stressed that while the bill creates a cap on what consumers will pay for insulin going forward, “the companies that make it are still going to make a profit. After all, that cap doesn’t necessarily translate to a cap on what the insurance company or Medicare will pay.”

“But it’s the right thing to do, and I would hope support for the bill would be overwhelmingly bipartisan. That’s not my expectation, but I think there will be some Republicans who will be voting for it in the House and in the Senate.

“Unfortunately, I have found my friends in the Republican Party too often shrugging their shoulders and saying to consumers, ‘You’re on your own’ … whether the issue under discussion is the minimum wage, violence against women or the affordability and availability of health care,” Hoyer said.

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., has said he plans to combine the cap championed by Warnock, McBath, Kildee and Craig in their respective bill, with a bipartisan measure introduced by Sens. Jeanne Shaheen, D-N.H., and Susan Collins, R-Maine.

Though the details of the Shaheen-Collins bill are still fluid, both senators have suggested their approach will be to target industry middlemen, known as pharmacy benefit managers, who negotiate the price of insulin and other drugs.

Some drug industry stakeholders maintain that it’s the middlemen who jack up the prices of drugs and cause the exorbitant prices paid by consumers.

Dan can be reached at dan@thewellnews.com and at https://twitter.com/DanMcCue

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