When it came to prescription drug costs, President Joe Biden and his Democratic allies initially aimed high. The Build Back Better agenda included a variety of provisions on the issue, including a plan to allow the government to negotiate drug prices through Medicare. It was a bold and ambitious approach.
That agenda, of course, couldn’t overcome the opposition of conservative Democrats in the Senate, so the party has, at least for now, narrowed its focus. The latest priority for Democratic leaders is a bill to cap insulin costs for consumers to $35 per month, and as a New York Times report explained, the legislation would do a lot of good for a lot of people.
The bill would have substantial benefits for many of the nearly 30 million Americans who live with diabetes. Insulin, a lifesaving drug that is typically taken daily, has grown increasingly expensive in recent years, and many diabetes patients ration their medicines or discontinue them because of the cost. About one in five Americans who take insulin would save money under the proposal, according to a recent analysis from the Kaiser Family Foundation.
It was against this backdrop that the bill reached the House floor yesterday, and it passed 232 to 193, with 12 Republicans joining a unanimous Democratic conference in advancing the legislation.
For Americans with diabetes, that’s the good news. The bad news is, the partisan division reinforced concerns about the bill’s broader prospects: The Affordable Insulin Now Act will need at least 10 Republican votes in the Senate to overcome a GOP filibuster, and with 94 percent of the House Republican conference balking yesterday, it suggests the minority party is not likely to help send the legislation to the White House for Biden’s signature.
To be sure, GOP lawmakers are taking a political risk, opposing a measure like this in an election year, but Republicans appear to believe they’ll persevere anyway.
As for the prospects in the upper chamber, all hope is not lost, at least not yet. An Associated Press reported that a bipartisan duo — Democrat Jeanne Shaheen of New Hampshire and Republican Susan Collins of Maine — are working on a bipartisan insulin bill, the prospects of which remain uncertain, while Georgia Democratic Sen. Raphael Warnock is pushing a bill similar to the House version, which enjoys Sen. Majority Leader Chuck Schumer’s support.
Time is of the essence, not just because of the number of Americans who need assistance, but also because of the political calendar. Republican Sen. Chuck Grassley conceded a few weeks ago that if his party controls either chamber of Congress after the midterm elections, the effort to lower the cost of any prescription medications will effectively collapse.
“If we want to reduce drug prices, then we need to do it now,” the Iowan declared during a committee hearing.
Watch this space.