The pharmaceutical industry has opposed regulating drug prices in social spending and climate legislation, but it has not verbally opposed the insulin bill. While the bill would reduce costs for many individual patients who take insulin, it would do nothing to reduce the prices paid to the companies that manufacture it. Instead, insurance companies would simply pay a larger share of the price. The Congressional Budget Office estimated that the bill would increase government spending, since health insurers, including Medicare, would be responsible for a greater share of insulin costs.
But consumer insulin costs have become a politically potent issue, given the extent of diabetes in the United States, and a relatively easier problem to solve than prescription drug prices in general. At a White House event in December, President Biden centered a prescription drug speech around the cost of insulin.
“I think it’s safe to say that all of us, all of us, regardless of our background, our age, where we live, we can agree that prescription drugs are outrageously expensive in this country,” he said. Mr Biden said at the event, where diabetes patients told their stories of struggles to pay for the drugs.
Debate over the broader legislation has slowed, but is not dead. Senator Joe Manchin III, a West Virginia Democrat and leading centrist, voiced support for the prescription drug provisions in the bill, though he was more skeptical of other parts of the package. .
At her weekly press conference on Thursday, Speaker Nancy Pelosi of California tried to frame the passage of the insulin bill as progress toward the party’s broader drug pricing agenda. She described insulin prices as a “kitchen table problem”.
“This is a step for us in the direction where the secretary can negotiate lower drug prices beyond insulin,” she added, referring to the secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services social.
Senator Patty Murray, a Democrat of Washington and chair of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, is a co-sponsor of similar insulin legislation in her chamber. She said she remains committed to a comprehensive set of prescription drug pricing reforms, but sees the insulin issue as particularly pressing.