Getting Stiffed on Health Care — Again

Provisions passed by the House last year that subjected insulin products to Medicare price negotiation and capped Medicare insulin copays at $35 per month have been left out of the latest draft of the bill.

Sen. Chuck Schumer in 2019. (AFGE, Flickr, CC BY 2.0)

By Kenny Stancil
Common Dreams

Hundreds of people affected by the United States’ sky-high insulin prices and more than two dozen progressive advocacy groups earlier this week told Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer that it would be an “enormous mistake” to exclude insulin-related provisions from an emerging reconciliation bill.

The initially far-reaching but now heavily curtailed economic package that congressional Democrats hope to pass through the filibuster-proof budget reconciliation process before November’s pivotal midterms is expected to focus on lowering drug prices — the one major reform that right-wing Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin (W.Va.) has agreed to in his negotiations with Schumer (D-N.Y.).

Earlier this month, Senate Democrats — including Manchin, whose vote is indispensable in the evenly split upper chamber — reached a deal on a plan that would allow Medicare Part D to negotiate the prices of up to 20 prescription medications directly with pharmaceutical corporations, a proposal that is overwhelmingly popular with voters across party lines.

“As Congress verges on finally putting in place a system for Medicare drug price negotiation and advancing other urgently needed reforms, we ask that you ensure people who need insulin to live are not left behind,” the coalition wrote to Schumer in a letter signed by Public Citizen, T1International, the Center for Popular Democracy and other groups and individuals.

Legislation passed by the House and considered by the Senate last year included language that would have made all insulin products subject to Medicare price negotiation and that would have capped Medicare beneficiaries’ insulin copays at $35 per month.

Both provisions have been left out of the latest draft of the bill released by the Senate Finance Committee, however, much to the dismay of consumer advocates and people with diabetes.

“As drug pricing legislation advances through the budget reconciliation process, policymakers must, at least, include price negotiation and Medicare out-of-pocket cost provisions that have previously been uncontroversial in the caucus,” says the letter. “It would be an enormous mistake to exclude insulin price negotiation and out-of-pocket protections that previously received overwhelming support and miss this key opportunity.”

Insulin prices in the U.S. — seven times higher than those found in peer countries — are so steep that experts have accused the federal government and pharmaceutical industry of violating human rights.

More than 37 million people in the U.S. have been diagnosed with diabetes. The disease, which can wreak havoc on organs, eyesight, and limbs if left unmanaged, is the country’s seventh leading cause of death, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Because just three pharmaceutical corporations control the nation’s lucrative insulin market, the century-old drug can cost a person without adequate health insurance more than $300 per vial.

Price Gouging

This unabated price gouging and the massive coverage gaps inherent to a for-profit healthcare system have left millions of people across the U.S. who rely on insulin to live with diabetes unable to afford it. Corporate profiteering is forcing many people to ration the drug or forgo it, with deadly consequences.

“Excluding insulin from drug pricing reform would be a slap in the face for the millions of Americans who rely on this lifesaving medicine to manage their diabetes,” Peter Maybarduk, Access to Medicines program director at Public Citizen, said in a statement.

“Insulin typifies the price abuse and treatment rationing that drug price reform must begin to fix, so it’s particularly shocking that Congress has dropped it,” said Maybarduk. “We urge Majority Leader Schumer to do everything in his power reinsert insulin into the bill without delay.”

It’s not entirely clear why Senate Democrats did not include insulin-related provisions in their new legislation. Senate Finance Committee Chair Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) declined to explain when asked last week by Bloomberg Law.

“We never thought that would be on the chopping block,” Shaina Kasper, a policy manager for T1International, told the outlet. She added that her group, which is led by people with Type 1 diabetes and seeks to expand access to insulin, is “gearing up to throw down” with Democrats over the move.

Bloomberg Law reported that Schumer

“has said he plans to hold a vote soon on a measure from a bipartisan duo to cap the out-of-pocket cost of insulin at $35 a month. But passing the legislation from Sens. Susan Collins (R-Maine) and Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.) requires the support of Republicans, and key GOP senators say they’re not ready for a vote right now.”

The American Prospect‘s David Dayen argued on social media Monday that “it would be very simple to just add insulin back in” to the reconciliation package. But possibly as a result of Manchin’s stated penchant for “bipartisanship,” Dayen continued, Democrats handed control of a key piece of their proposed drug price reforms to their Republican colleagues.

“Incidentally, it’s possible that the insulin co-pay cap outside of federal programs wouldn’t pass parliamentary muster, but make the parliamentarian do that, don’t do their job for them,” Dayen tweeted, referring to the unelected official tasked with opining on whether bill provisions comply with the enigmatic rules of budget reconciliation.

“Forcing one Medicare price negotiation to be insulin seems obviously allowable,” he added.

Kenny Stancil is a staff writer for Common Dreams.

This article is from  Common Dreams.

14 comments for “Getting Stiffed on Health Care — Again

  1. P
    July 22, 2022 at 14:34

    “Earlier this month, Senate Democrats — including Manchin, whose vote is indispensable in the evenly split upper chamber — reached a deal on a plan that would allow Medicare Part D to negotiate the prices of up to 20 prescription medications directly with pharmaceutical corporations, a proposal that is overwhelmingly popular with voters across party lines.”

    One has to see that this is a multi-step process: first step, maximally dilute a beneficial policy to still be able to claim it “an important step” etc. Entire pricing system in American healthcare stinks, and in the case of medications, most visibly so. So we reduce the attention to medication. But hey, do not be radical! Are we communists of Putinists? Why not just a thousands of medications? Or hundred? Perhaps we should pick one? That would be obvious mockery. Heated discussions lead to twenty.

    And now the cherry on the cake: the thingy is squashed.

    “Because just three pharmaceutical corporations control the nation’s lucrative insulin market, the century-old drug can cost a person without adequate health insurance more than $300 per vial.”

    And how that beauty of free enterprise, free trade etc. came to being? The layers of corrupt legislations, regulations etc. are as thick as the rock formation we can see in Grand Canyon.

  2. Vesa s
    July 22, 2022 at 05:15

    US is the cancer of our humanity.

  3. Vera Gottlieb
    July 21, 2022 at 13:35

    Swallow your pride, Yank…and take a very close look at Cuba’s universal health care system. The US never misses a chance to preach to other nations on whichever subject but…take a good look at your own backyard…all the shit that has been piling up for decades.

  4. renate
    July 21, 2022 at 12:59

    Bipartisanship really means to water down, undermine the purpose, and make the bill useless. It is window dressing for bad bills. Neo-liberal economics 101. Actually, we don’t have a government worth the name.

  5. Charles
    July 20, 2022 at 23:15

    How sad to see this. The richest country in the world can’t afford to take the health system to task for doing this….The lower 33% are being gouged by gas prices, food prices and now this. We are not the indespencible nation…this is a crime against the poor victems that have this terrible disease. We should be ashamed.

  6. LeoSun
    July 20, 2022 at 21:49

    Obviously, “the emerging reconciliation bill” is NOT designed to “Save, Lives.” Imo, it’s straight-up, premeditated, Social Murder; AND, It’s totally, avoidable! The re$olution is one Maserati away, i.e., “the one major reform that right-wing Democrat, Senator Joe Manchin (W.Va.) has agreed to in his negotiations with Schumer (D-N.Y.).”

    “Just add In$ulin, back in.” Otherwise, “what Charles Dickens’ Scrooge called “decrease[ing] the surplus population” is being accomplished by government policy, calculating that those who die will disproportionately be the elderly, the disabled and the poor.”

    • renate
      July 21, 2022 at 13:07

      The need for reconciliation speaks for itself. Republicans always win. Manchine, the mole, can be relied on to serve the industry.

    • Brian Bixby
      July 21, 2022 at 22:32

      I wonder how much “campaign contributions”, insider trading tips, and how many no-show jobs it cost the insulin manufacturers. I seriously doubt it was more than 0.01% of the additional profit that they’re going to make just this year.

  7. July 20, 2022 at 17:49

    If McConnell had a Manchin, he’d not treat that Senator with kit gloves. He’d pull out of the stops, above the board and below. McConnell would get his legislation passed, and the obstructionist Senator would comply or have a shortened Senate career.

    Manchin is just the water carrier that all the neolib senators and House Reps rely on so they can save face with their constituents.

    • Brian Bixby
      July 21, 2022 at 22:28

      LBJ would have called Manchin into the Oval Office, waved his FBI/NSA/IRS file in his face, and said, “This says you’re going to vote yes.” Of course that was before the Democratic Party had been sold lock, stock and barrel to Wall Street.

  8. Great Shark Hunt
    July 20, 2022 at 15:57

    Anyone on Social Security who votes Democrat ever again is a friggin fool.

    Joe Biden’s SS COLA for 2021: 5.9%
    Joe Biden’s USA official inflation rate for 2021: 7.2%
    Joe Biden’s Medicare Rate Hike for 2021: 14.9%
    (probably more indicative of the ‘real’ inflation rate than the official government stats)

    Joe Biden had a chance to roll back that Medicare hike, which he claimed was for some unique drug and then they said they didn’t really need the money after all, but Joe Biden said that no, the rate hike stays in place. Wait till next year, after the elections, to see how much more the President from MasterCard sticks it to those remaining grandparents who have thus far survived The Bi-Partisan War on Grandparents.

    And now, Joe Biden once again sticks it to people on Medicare.

    Anyone on Social Security or Medicare who votes Democrat is a friggin fool. Anyone who cares about anyone who is on Social Security or Medicare and who votes for the Party of Wall Street, aka Democrats, is a fool.

    As far as I’m concerned, the Party of Wall Street can go bleep themselves. Democrats are great if you own a Wall Street hedge fund. But absolutely horrible for ordinary folk, who the Democrats seriously don’t give a bleep about. And that’s all Democrats, even the fakes who make nice salaries and live high-on-the-hog by pretending to be progressive but who never actually do bleep to help anyone. Progressives vote for a policy of $Billions for Ukraine, but not one red cent to help Americans. They do hold nice press conferences I suppose, make supposedly stirring statements, except that none have the eloquence of Dr. King, but of course, he had it easy in that he spoke from the heart. But in the end, its those budgets that pass with 100’s $billions for the war machine that really count, and hot air, well, that we’ve already got way too much of anyways.

    Joe Biden: getting up towards 700,000 dead Americans from COVID by official undercounts, and with a bad winter predicted.
    And for everyone else, Joe Biden’s important personal goal is to make sure that nobody gets raises equal to the Joe Biden Inflation Rate, not even the rigged government stat. Joe Biden wants every American (who doesn’t own a hedge fund) to be worse off next year than they were last year.

    • renate
      July 21, 2022 at 13:17

      You said it. There is no reason to vote at all. The lobbyists are not on the ballot, but they sure run the government.

    • Maura
      July 22, 2022 at 19:55

      Medicare premium rates,cola cost of living adjustments have set rules ….
      Consumer Price Increae a factor..
      Medicare is government subsidized
      and a bargain for seniors.
      BTW Joe Biden can’t change formula.
      Congress hasn’t had any significant
      Amendments since 1983.but can make changes.
      For the young workers looking ahead 50 yrs for Medicare benefits….
      This country will be unrecognizable.

  9. July 20, 2022 at 15:25

    US domestic policy is now a mirror of its murderous foreign policy.

Comments are closed.