UPDATED: House passes $35 monthly insulin caps, but Senate remains a question mark
Democrats and Republicans remained divided over how to lower the price of insulin, and on the House floor Thursday, Dems voted together with 12 Republicans to pass a bill to cap insulin prices at $35 per month, by a vote of 232-193 (and 6 didn’t vote). In the Senate, the picture isn’t so clear.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) took to the floor on Thursday, explaining how the price of insulin has skyrocketed in recent years, with the top manufacturers pulling in record-breaking profits by charging the US significantly more than other countries.
Working parents on insulin are reporting often having to choose between paying the bills and protecting the health of a loved one, Pelosi said. And while the bill effectively cuts what many of those who rely on insulin will pay at the pharmacy counter, it doesn’t hit the prices set by the pharma manufacturers, nor does it help those who are uninsured.
The same insulin price cap bill passed the House last year but didn’t muster the votes in the Senate. How it will fare in the Senate again remains unknown, although Dems will likely need 60 votes, meaning Republicans will have to join them, unless they use a tactic known as reconciliation, which allows for just a simple majority. Republicans previously used reconciliation to get their tax law passed under the Trump administration.
“There is a path forward in the Senate to pass the legislation through reconciliation,” David Mitchell, a cancer patient and founder of Patients For Affordable Drugs Now, said in a statement. “In order to deliver on their promises to all patients — including those who depend on insulin — the Senate must act urgently to approve the broad provisions already passed by the House.”
And although Republicans slammed the bill on Thursday’s floor debate as misguided, some of the same House Republicans previously backed a Trump administration move that required more than 1,600 plans to cap insulin copays at $35 a month.
Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-WA), who voted against the insulin bill on Thursday, called out the PBMs for hiding lower drug costs from patients, saying this bill gives these middlemen a pass.
“We should be lowering the cost [of insulin] without going down the road of price controls,” she said.
Rep. Virginia Foxx (R-NC) similarly voted “Nay” and called the bill “one step closer to socialized medicine,” saying it “sets an extremely dangerous precedent.” Congress shouldn’t knowingly raise premiums, she said.
But Democrats countered that this bill would provide a literal lifeline to many with diabetes.
House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-MD) said the bill is not a form of price control as the companies are still going to charge what they charge.
Other Democrats said this should be the first step to even more drug pricing reforms, including allowing Medicare to negotiate on drug prices.
“At the end of the day, I hope that we can still bring forward a reconciliation bill with additional reforms this year. I know we need to do Medicare drug price negotiation,” Rep. Angie Craig (D-MN), the lead sponsor of the insulin bill, told Politico.
Senate majority leader Chuck Schumer has vowed to hold a vote in the Senate on the insulin cap bill after the Easter recess.
Editor’s note: Article updated with more details on the vote.