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House Democrats pass bill to cap insulin costs at $35 a month

House Democrats pass bill to cap insulin costs at $35 a month
Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., called the surging cost of drugs, including insulin, in the United States a "kitchen-table issue" that affects millions of Americans. Photo by Bonnie Cash/UPI | License Photo

March 31 (UPI) -- Democratic lawmakers in the U.S. House of Representatives on Thursday passed legislation to cap the cost of insulin for most Americans at $35 a month despite Republicans arguing the bill will stifle innovation.

The bill passed the House 232-193 mostly along party lines with a dozen Republicans joining their Democratic colleagues who have been championing an agenda that includes lowering the costs of medication.

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Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., from the House floor on Thursday called the issue of surging drug prices "a kitchen-table issue" affecting millions of families.

"This is crucial right now, as so many Americans struggle to keep up with the burdensome everyday costs. And, of course, this has been exacerbated with COVID, which has in many instances spread diabetes more," she said from the House floor. "To be clear: comprehensive reform is urgently needed to lift the crushing burden of prescription drug prices weighing on our families."

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The bill, introduced by Democratic Rep. Angie Craig of Minnesota late last month, specifically imposes limits on private health insurance plans and those offered under Medicare on the cost of insulin.

Insulin users under medicare would pay no more than $35 for a 30-day prescription while cost sharing under private plans would limit the cost to $35 or 25% of the plan's negotiated price for a month supply of the life-saving drug.

More than 37 million Americans have diabetes with one in five unaware of it, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said, adding that medical costs and lost work and wages for people diagnosed with the disease total $327 billion a year.

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According to a 2018 study published by Diabetes Care journal, about 7.4 million Americas use one or more forms of insulin, the average price for which has steadily climbed in recent years and has become the poster-drug for raging drug prices.

The Health Care Cost Institute has said that the price of insulin doubled nationally from an average monthly cost of $344 in 2012 to $666 in 2016.

A 2020 study from the CDC states the cost of insulin is the most common reason why more than two-thirds of people with diabetes or hypertension who take the life-saving drug skip or delay taking the medication.

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"No American should have to choose between paying for lifesaving insulin and other basic necessities like food and rent," Craig told lawmakers from the floor Thursday. "And yet, today, all across the country, patients are risking their own lives by rationing doses or skipping treatments entirely."

GOP opponents criticized the way the bill goes about lowering drug prices, while pushing Republican-proposed H.R 19, also known as the Lower Costs, More Cures Act.

Rep. Larry Bucshon, R-Ind., accused the Democrat's bill of failing to address the cause that drives insulin's price increase, and accuses its price-control mechanism of being a "slippery slope" that could be applied to other aspects of the economy.

"The bill before us today is just another attempt by Democrats in Washington to pass a political solution and set federal price controls," he said. "And once they open that door what happens when they don't stop with insulin what happens when they decide to move on past healthcare and set price controls for other aspects of our economy why not cap what you can sell your house for?"

Republicans also accused the bill of stifling innovation for cures while shifting the cost of insulin to patients of other diseases.

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Rep. Anna Eshoo, D-Calif., the chair of the energy and commerce subcommittee on health, lambasted her Republican colleagues for using such arguments about an issue that affects millions of lives.

"How about this: diabetes kills," she said. Diabetics need insulin. They have to be able to afford it. They've paid their taxes all of their lives, so the cost for this -- sign me up for it."

"This is absurd that these prices in our country when it costs $15 to manufacture," she said. "So today we stand with your constituents as well as ours to lower the price of insulin for those that need it so that they can go on with their lives."

The bill is now sent to the Senate where it will need 10 Republicans to jump the aisle for it to pass.

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