The high price of insulin has now become a political issue not to be ignored. Last month, when a “caravan” of Americans headed to the Canadian border to purchase insulin, the story was widely disseminated by news organizations across the country. Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders, who joined the caravan, has made insulin affordability a major platform of his campaign, thrusting the issue into the news night after night.
There appears to be a broad consensus in Washington D.C. that the situation has become intolerable, and calls for action abound, particularly since the high-profile April hearings on the matter. However, with so many proposals and theories going around, and the ever-present threat of partisan acrimony, it’s difficult to foresee support coalescing around any one solution.
This week, a bipartisan group of senators introduced the Insulin Price Reduction Act, which provides incentives for insulin manufacturers to roll price back to their 2006 levels. U.S. Rep. Mike Kelly (R-PA) wrote a letter to the FDA, demanding to know why there were no generic insulins on the market. Meanwhile, the Senate Finance Committee unveiled its own act, the White House-backed Prescription Drug Pricing Reduction Act of 2019, which hopes to halt further increases in prices, but will not roll back today’s high prices, and primarily effects only Medicaire and Medicaid recipients.
Despite the apparent willingness of lawmakers to reach across the aisle on the insulin issue, there is plenty of discord in each camp. The Finance Committee’s bipartisan bill appeared to be in immediate trouble, as both Republicans and Democrats cautioned that they may vote against it for entirely different reasons. Meanwhile, Democrats allowed a “turf battle” between different committees to threaten progress in the House on increased drug price transparency, an issue with otherwise unanimous support among the party.
Two editorials in the Wall Street Journal this week help point to one central issue. First, the paper published an editorial arguing that insulin prices have skyrocketed because of the “perverse incentives” of the byzantine healthcare market, rather than corporate greed, and that further government action was likely only to exacerbate the issue. Two days later, the newspaper printed a rebuttal by a Brookings Institute thinker, arguing that immediate action was necessary.