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Prescription drugs

Reed and Whitehouse seek to reduce the cost of insulin and prescription drugs

EAST PROVIDENCE, RI (WPRI) – Senators from Rhode Island are asking the US Senate to vote on a number of proposals, including one that would cap the cost of insulin at $35 per month.

If passed, the Affordable Insulin Now Act, co-sponsored by Sen. Jack Reed and Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, would apply to both Medicare and private plans.

In Rhode Island alone, the American Diabetes Association (ADA) reports that nearly 93,000 people (or 10.5% of the state’s adult population) are diagnosed with the disease.

However, data from the ADA shows that many more are at high risk of developing diabetes. An estimated 23,000 Rhode Islanders have diabetes but don’t know it, while another 280,000 people (33.1% of the adult population) have prediabetes.

According to the ADA, medical costs for diabetics are more than double those of an average person. Direct medical expenses for Rhode Islanders with diabetes totaled approximately $778 million in 2017.

“Insulin prices have risen dramatically without the drug changing significantly in a century,” Whitehouse said at a Monday news conference.

The Health Care Costs Institute reported that the price of insulin nearly doubled from 2012 to 2016, with the average cost of a 40-day supply rising from $344 to $666.

Laura Jones, senior director of services at East Providence Senior Center, noted how crucial Whitehouse and Reed’s proposal would be for the people she serves.

“For seniors living on a budget, they often have to choose between refilling their medication, paying the electric bill, or buying groceries,” Jones said.

Watch: Reed/Whitehouse press conference (story continues below)

Jones recalled the story of an elderly diabetic whose cost of prescribing insulin skyrocketed without warning.

“One day she went to get her new bottle of insulin and her copayment went from $40 a month to $600!” said Jones.

The woman could not afford the price increase and went a week without insulin.

“She was terrified,” Jones added.

Jones said the senior was eventually able to resolve the situation with her doctor’s office and get her prescription reduced.

“But it leaves me wondering: what happens to all the other seniors who don’t have the means or the know-how to fight for affordability of medication? asked Jones.

The Affordable Insulin Now Act would create a $35 federal cap on direct insulin charges.

“We hope we can get this bill to the president’s office,” Reed said Monday. “It passed the House, it now has to pass the Senate, and it will be signed by President Biden.”

The House approved the bill in March by just 39 votes in favor. The Senate version was referred to the Finance Committee in February.

Reed and Whitehouse also partnered on four other bills aimed at making prescription drugs more affordable:

  • An Act Empowering Medicare Seniors to Negotiate Drug Prices (S. 833)
  • Drug Advertising Taxpayer Subsidies Ending Act (s. 141)
  • Safe and Affordable Importation of Prescription Drugs Act (S. 920)
  • Affordable Medicines Act (S. 1898)

The Empowering Medicare Seniors to Negotiate Drug Prices Act would allow Medicare to directly negotiate the best possible prescription drug price to reduce costs for the approximately 43 million seniors enrolled in Medicare Part D. The current law prohibits Medicare from do it.

The Veterans Health Administration, operated by the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), can purchase prescription drugs at discounted prices, as well as negotiate greater discounts.

“It saves the Veterans Administration millions and millions of dollars a year and provides needed pharmaceuticals for all of our veterans, and we can do that for everyone,” Reed said.

Joan J. Dean

The author Joan J. Dean