Many years prior to becoming a United States senator, Raphael Warnock lived in Georgia for decades while spending countless hours at the bedside of diabetics. His experience as a pastor has given him great insight into diabetes. The Associated Press recently interviewed Warnock, as he explained how he had been there when families have been told a loved one needs an amputation, amongst other things regarding how insulin can exacerbate this condition.
As a result of the pastor’s work, Congress took the first step toward reducing insulin costs for millions of Americans. Voters received key Democratic priorities months before the midterm election with this month’s comprehensive climate change and health bill. Cost-saving provisions were also included.
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Pharmaceutical costs will be negotiated by Medicare by 2026. Starting in 2025, Medicare beneficiaries can pay $2,000 for prescriptions. Insulin costs will rise by $35 per month for Medicare patients in January. Democrats have long prioritized the provision, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation. Approximately 2 million Americans will be relieved of paying $572 a year for insulin.
For more than 50,000 Georgians who depend on the drug, Warnock’s state has a higher average: $591 per year. In addition to housing and food, 14% of Americans spend nearly half their income on medication, according to Yale University.
According to Lisa Murdock (chief advocacy officer of the American Diabetes Association), it is devastating for a family to be forced to make these choices. It’s a life-saving medication. People shouldn’t have to choose not to use it. Insulin prices have only worsened in the last two decades. Between 2002 and 2013, insulin prices tripled, according to a 2016 American Medical Association study. Between 2012 and 2016, prices nearly doubled, according to a congressional report.
It’s been a long struggle for Congress. The issue has broad bipartisan support, but little consensus exists on how to solve it. Since Colorado capped insulin copays in 2019, the American Diabetes Association has been fighting to make insulin affordable nationwide.
We will continue to work on it as long as necessary,” Murdock said. “We already have monthly copay caps in 22 states and the District of Columbia.” The federal law does not go as far as many state laws restricting Medicare and private insurance costs. Originally, Warnock’s legislation included a monthly cap for Medicare beneficiaries and private insurers.
Private insurance was removed during a long vote by Republicans. Most people who need insulin use this type of insurance. According to the CDC, some GOP senators who voted for its removal represent states with the highest diabetes mortality rates. According to Republicans, the provision violated Senate budget rules. On the Senate floor, Democrats deliberately refused to drop it.
Sen. Ron Johnson (a Wisconsin Republican) tweeted after the vote that Democrats violated Senate rules to pass the insulin pricing cap. To provide insulin at a low cost to low-income Americans, Johnson voted for an amendment, which Democrats blocked.
Warnock, however, said that the dispute over procedural rules was unsubstantial.
People hate Washington because of blocking a clause that would have allowed the same cap for people with private insurance. Seven Republicans voted for the provision. Even though there wasn’t enough support, it was stronger than any other effort to limit insulin prices in Congress. A top priority for Chuck Schumer in September is increasing insulin access.
Advocates believe that a possible legislative solution to the coverage gaps could be found in the Insulin Act. This bipartisan proposal was introduced last month by Senator Jeanne Shaheen (a Democrat from New Hampshire) and Sen. Susan Collins (a Republican from Maine). It would include a cap in the private market. Some mechanisms would lower insulin’s list price, which could relieve patients with diabetes who don’t have any Medicare benefits.
“We are grateful to the Inflation Reduction Act’s progress, but now, we’re focused on urging Congress for the Insulin Act as quickly as possible,” Campbell Hutton, vice-president of regulatory policy and health policy at JDRF (a New York-based non-profit that funds type 1 diabetic research), said.