Schumer pledges vote on $35 insulin caps next month as other pricing reforms remain on hold for now
If the Senate fails to pass a $35 monthly insulin cap late next month, which it’s expected to do, what would be next for drug pricing reforms on Capitol Hill?
That’s the major question right now as Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) said Tuesday that following the Senate recess for the Easter holiday (returning on April 25), he will bring to a vote a bill that would cap monthly insulin costs at $35 for those with insurance, which aligns with President Biden’s pledge for such a cap at the State of the Union.
Schumer also mentioned “additional policies to drive down the list price in a more comprehensive way,” which would be a welcome relief as the market has not been able to reduce prices in any substantial way, even with an interchangeable biosimilar.
The bipartisan duo of Sens. Susan Collins (R-ME) and Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH), who previously worked on insulin in 2019, will lead the Senate’s efforts. The issue of insulin prices in the US has been lingering for years with no solution. The current price of insulin in the US is more than 10 times that of 33 other comparable countries, even as the net price of insulin has declined in recent years.
But the bill seems doomed to failure as Senate Democrats are unlikely to muster enough votes to pass the cap (10 Republicans would have to join their colleagues from across the aisle). Still, the vote and lead-up may increase awareness around the issue, which could, in turn, restart wider drug pricing reforms that have stalled since the Build Back Better Act fizzled out.
“Insulin costs have been rapidly rising for years, and it’s forcing millions of Americans with diabetes to make impossible decisions,” Schumer tweeted yesterday on the vote.
But the broader strategy behind this vote in April remains unclear.
Generally, the idea is that the insulin bill won’t pass, but that will add to the momentum behind using reconciliation to pass legislation (meaning Dems would only need 51 votes) with some drug pricing provisions included, Alex Lawson, executive director of the nonprofit Social Security Works who follows drug pricing developments closely on the Hill, told Endpoints News.
“But there is worry in the broader community that it could pass before [the second attempt at using reconciliation after the BBBA] and take away key pressure to pass the broader BBBA measures,” he said. “It is all a Schumer call at this point. I also think it’s a backup plan if [Sen. Joe] Manchin pulls the football away again on BBBA.”
And if last week’s Senate Finance Committee hearing on Medicare negotiations is any bellwether, finding bipartisan compromise around drug pricing may be difficult to do, especially if the Dems try to get it done before the midterms this fall.
Republicans in the committee made clear their opposition to Medicare negotiating on prices, especially as they sought to convince the public that the term “negotiations” is actually closer to price controls.