President Trump has announced that monthly co-pays for Medicare insulin will be capped at just $35, beginning in January 2021.
“This is a big day for seniors,” President Trump said at a press conference in the White House Rose Garden, joined by representatives from the pharmaceutical industry, health insurers, and patient advocacy groups. “We brought all of the parties to the table — insurers, manufacturers, and other key players — and reached an agreement to deliver insulin at stable and drastically lower out-of-pocket cost for our seniors.”
Medicare, which is available primarily to Americans of the age of 64, has a massive footprint: some 15% of total federal spending goes into the program. There are 44 million beneficiaries of Medicare, although a majority have some form of supplementary health coverage. About 3 million Medicare enrollees require insulin, according to the White House. The Center for Medicare & Medicaid Services estimated that the plan should save patients nearly $500 per year.
The announcement is just the latest in a wave of efforts to make the life-giving drug more affordable. Since March, at least seven states have passed their own laws limiting the cost of prescription insulin, most of which also take effect in January 2021. In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, as journalists and politicians began to pay unprecedented attention to the issue of healthcare affordability, the major insulin manufacturers also moved to reduce the prices of their own products. Years of advocacy may finally be paying off.
While the announcement was widely applauded, there was unsurprisingly some skepticism over the changes. The website Axios quoted an anonymous health care lobbyist that called it “a marketing tool to drive enrollment” to private Medicare plans. The idea that insulin companies are only now agreeing to price reductions due to overwhelming public relations pressure has already prompted some outrage both in and outside of the diabetes community.
Trump did not hesitate to turn the announcement into an open political appeal: “I hope the seniors are going to remember it, because Biden is the one that put us into the jam.” Polls show that healthcare and prescription drug costs are consistently at the forefront of voters’ minds, especially among seniors.
The speech also contained at least one characteristic Trumpian off-script oddity, in which the President, who is not known to have any form of diabetes, wondered aloud if he should be taking insulin: “I don’t use insulin, should I be? Huh? I never thought about it, but I know a lot of people are, uh, very badly affected. Right? Unbelievable.” Jerome Adams, the surgeon general, later clarified to the president that he did not need insulin. Given the president’s reputed diet, that may itself be something of a medical marvel…