Limits on insulin costs revived to prompt Senate action | Health
By RICARDO ALONSO-ZALDIVAR – Associated Press
WASHINGTON (AP) — Legislation to limit insulin costs for people with diabetes is being reactivated in the Senate. Democrats say they want to move quickly, but they’ll need Republican support to get anything through in an evenly divided chamber — and they’re not there yet.
Reducing insulin costs has the support of President Joe Biden and, before that, even enjoyed the support of his Republican predecessor Donald Trump. The target reappeared this week after Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D.N.Y., wrote to colleagues that “negotiations are underway with Senate Republicans on legislation to reduce the cost insulin” as part of an urgent effort to solve the economic problems of American families. .
Democrats want regain momentum on drug costs they wasted when an endless series of intraparty disagreements stalled Biden’s national agenda. Some Republicans would also like to mark an achievement in a political area that galvanizes voters from all political backgrounds. House Democrats say the insulin legislation that garners 60 votes in the Senate would also pass their chamber.
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Schumer is a key co-sponsor of a recent bill by Sen. Raphael Warnock, D-Ga., that would limit insulin copays to $35 per month for patients covered by private insurance and those on Medicare. Although it expands a Medicare option launched on a trial basis by the Trump administration, the bill’s list of co-sponsors does not include any Republicans.
Senator Susan Collins, R-Maine, says she is preparing to introduce bipartisan legislation that takes a broader approach, also helping uninsured patients who bear the brunt of high and rising list prices for insulin. Collins says she is working with Democratic New Hampshire Senator Jeanne Shaheen, and their bill could incorporate something along the lines of Warnock’s proposal.
“I think there should be enough support for this to be passed in a bipartisan way,” Warnock said in an interview Tuesday. “Something as puny as politics shouldn’t prevent access to life-saving medicine.” Health care was a central issue for the freshman senator.
Collins says a limit on copayments for the insured is only a partial solution because it doesn’t help uninsured patients. The uninsured find themselves stuck with high list prices because they are excluded from significant discounts offered by insurers and intermediary companies that manage prescription benefits.
“We’re looking at the whole insulin pricing system more broadly,” Collins said in an interview. “This is a priority for Jeanne and I, and we believe we are well placed to push forward a well-thought-out piece of legislation.” They plan to introduce it later this month.
Nearly 30 million Americans have diabetes and more than 6 million use insulin to control their blood sugar. It is an old drug, refined over the years, which has seen relentless price increases. Patients who cannot afford the cost of their insulin often skip doses, a risky strategy that can lead to serious complications and even death.
Juliette Cubanski, a Medicare expert with the nonpartisan Kaiser Family Foundation, says the idea of limiting insulin costs appears to have started in the states and eventually caught the attention of the federal government.
The Trump administration negotiated with drugmakers and insurers to offer Medicare enrollees the option of purchasing prescription plans that covered insulin for $35 a month. Warnock’s bill goes further by codifying the Medicare demonstration program into federal law. All Medicare drug plans, as well as employer and individual policies, would be required to cover a range of insulin products for $35 per month.
“That would be a clear advantage for insured people who have a high deductible that they have to pay,” Cubanski said. “The only caveat is that those who have the hardest time getting insulin are those who don’t have health insurance.”
The drug pricing provisions in Biden’s national agenda would address insulin costs from several angles. In addition to a similar $35 monthly cap on patient costs, the bill would allow Medicare to negotiate insulin prices. More generally, the legislation would limit annual increases in the costs of all drugs — including insulin — and limit drug costs for Medicare beneficiaries.
Democrats say those drug pricing provisions still have a chance, along with a health care package that would expand access to insurance and keep premiums more affordable. An encouraging sign for Warnock’s bill: Sen. Joe Manchin, DW.Va., whose opposition has been the bane of Biden’s political ambitions, is listed as a co-sponsor.
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