Floor plan

Senators unveil bipartisan plan to cut insulin prices

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Top senators plan to unveil a bipartisan bill on Wednesday to reduce the high cost of insulin, a life-saving drug some Americans are struggling to afford as prices for the drug have soared.

The Legislation of Sens. Jeanne Shaheen (DN.H.) and Susan Collins (R-Maine) is the product of months of work to forge a compromise. But the bill still faces daunting political hurdles in a chamber where narrow margins and election-year tensions make the legislation a difficult proposition.

“This legislation is the result of months of good faith negotiations and input from lawmakers, lawyers and experts,” Shaheen and Collins said in a joint statement. “It is essential that Congress act quickly, which is why we are calling on Senate leaders to introduce our legislation as soon as possible.”

The bill would impose a $35 monthly cap on the cost of insulin for patients with private insurance as well as those enrolled in Medicare, though it wouldn’t offer the same protections to uninsured people. . The bill also aims to make insulin more accessible by cracking down on previous licensing requirements that can require patients to jump hurdles to get insurers to help pay for the drugs.

The legislation also aims to reduce the overall price of insulin, not just the price patients pay. The senators are targeting discounts that drug companies give to insurers and intermediaries who have been accused of raising drug costs at the point of sale.

Months before Collins and Shaheen finalized their bill, Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer (DN.Y.) pledged to put the proposal to a vote.

But even if the bill won all Democratic votes, it would still need the support of 10 Republicans to advance, a threshold that few bills are able to meet. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), meanwhile, has said little about the issue in recent months. And the proposal itself is broader in scope than an insulin price cap passed by the House in March, with just a dozen Republicans backing the measure.

Shaheen and Collins had previously drafted a bill in 2019 to reduce the insulin cost. But they began working to forge another compromise and seriously build support for the legislation this spring. With a draft in hand, the bipartisan pair began circulating letters in April chasing 60 total votes, their latest bet in a quest to lower insulin prices that spans decades.

In an interview at the time, Collins sounded optimistic about their prospects, noting that their attempts to provide financial assistance to diabetic patients would “transcend politics”.

“I can tell you there’s a lot of interest on both sides of the aisle in this bill,” she said.

Shaheen also expressed hope that the looming midterm elections – which will determine the makeup of Congress next year – would not jeopardize their attempts to build bipartisan support.

“It’s not about giving a victory to the Democrats or the Republicans. It’s about what we can do to help the American people and people with diabetes who are facing really difficult situations,” she said.

The legislation has been welcomed by some major diabetes advocacy groups, such as the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation (JDRF), an organization funding type 1 diabetes research.

“If we can take action through this legislation to increase access to affordable insulin, it will not only help people with diabetes, but it will help reduce hospitalizations and reduce kidney disease, things which are costing the health care system and our government a lot. money,” said Cynthia Rice, JDRF’s chief mission strategist.

But House Republicans have opposed the $35 price cap, raising the specter of price fixing that they say could hurt research efforts. This could portend obstacles in the Senate.

“I would like to see the bill before I make a decision on it, but in general I’m not in favor of price controls,” Sen. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.) told The Washington Post this month. this. “I am in favor of competition and things that encourage competition.”

Adding to the complexity, Democrats have not given up on their pursuit of broader revisions to prescription drug prices as part of a more sprawling economic spending agenda. That idea, along with an insulin price cap, was a key part of the roughly $2 trillion plan known as Build Back Better, which party lawmakers ultimately scrapped last year in middle of the opposition of one of their own, Sen. Joe Manchin III (DW.Va.).

But talks have intensified in recent weeks as Democrats seek to salvage their economic agenda with the polls just months away. Republicans have unanimously rejected that spending program, arguing that the Democratic plan — which allows Medicare to negotiate costs on behalf of patients — could limit treatments.

Since last year, President Biden has repeatedly capitalized on the politically popular idea of ​​lowering the high cost of insulin in his push for congressional Democrats to send an economic package to his office. As recently as Monday, he was optimistic about the prospects for passing the party’s signature drug pricing plan.

“I think we’re going to be able to get a change in Medicare and a reduction in the cost of insulin,” Biden said.