EAST PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — Rhode Island’s senators are calling for the U.S. Senate to vote on a number of proposals, including one that would cap the cost of insulin at $35 a 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) says nearly 93,000 people (or 10.5% of the state’s adult population) are diagnosed with the disease.
However, data from the ADA shows 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, diabetics’ medical expenses are more than double that of the average person. The direct medical expenses for Rhode Islanders with diabetes totaled approximately $778 million in 2017.
“The prices of insulin have dramatically increased without the drug changing significantly in a century,” Whitehouse said during a news conference on Monday.
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 going from $344 to $666.
Laura Jones, the senior services director at the East Providence Senior Center, noted how Whitehouse and Reed’s proposal would be crucial to the people she serves.
“For seniors living on a budget, they oftentimes find themselves having to choose between filling their medications, paying the electric bill, or buying groceries,” Jones said.
Watch: Reed/Whitehouse news conference (story continues below)
Jones recalled the story of one diabetic senior whose insulin prescription cost soared without notice.
“One day, she went to pick up her new vial of insulin and her copay jumped from $40 a month to $600!” Jones said.
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 a prescription reduction.
“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 medication affordability?” Jones asked.
The Affordable Insulin Now Act would create a $35 federal cap on out-of-pocket insulin costs.
“We hope that we can get this bill to the president’s desk,” Reed said Monday. “It’s passed the House, now it 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 Committee on Finance in February.
Reed and Whitehouse have also teamed up on four other bills that aim to make prescription medications more affordable:
- Empowering Medicare Seniors to Negotiate Drug Prices Act (S. 833)
- End Taxpayer Subsidies for Drug Ads Act (S. 141)
- Affordable and Safe Prescription Drug Importation Act (S. 920)
- Affordable Medications Act (S. 1898)
The Empowering Medicare Seniors to Negotiate Drug Prices Act would allow Medicare to directly negotiate the best possible price of prescription drugs to cut costs for the nearly 43 million seniors enrolled in Medicare Part D. Current law prohibits Medicare from doing so.
The Veterans Health Administration, operated by the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), can buy prescription drugs at discounted prices, as well as negotiate for deeper discounts.
“That saves the Veterans Administration millions and millions of dollars a year and it provides needed pharmaceuticals for all of our veterans, and we can do that for everyone,” Reed said.