MINNESOTA — Nearly 30 million Americans have some type of diabetes. In Minnesota, about 466,638 people, or 10.5 percent of the adult population, face the considerate health risks that come with the disease in addition to paying about $300 for a vial of insulin here.
State lawmakers have so far failed to pass an emergency insulin bill. The Democrats want pharmaceutical companies to cough up money for insulin, while the Republicans want the state to front the bill. The result: stalemate. Meanwhile, people are still spending reported amounts of $500 to nearly $1,000 a month for the hormone meant to regulate blood sugar.
On the federal level, Republican Representative Pete Stauber on Tuesday announced he introduced an amendment to “dramatically lower the cost of insulin at the pharmacy counter.” His amendment aims to modify the Lower Drug Costs Now Act, spearheaded by the Democratic House speaker, Nancy Pelosi, which is set for a vote this week.
In his press release, Stauber said that his amendment would require rebates to go directly to “the consumers rather than the middlemen” and reduce the cost of insulin by up to 75 percent. It would also mandate a report to Congress on “how this amendment impacts the cost of insulin and saves consumers money.”
“Too often, I hear from Minnesotans who are struggling to cover the rising cost of insulin, which can be hundreds or even thousands of dollars a month,” Stauber said in the statement. “These high costs often force families and seniors to make the difficult choice between buying this critical medication or putting food on the table.”
Under the current law, the federal Health and Human Services Secretary cannot negotiate for prescription drugs covered by Medicare. Instead private plans that offer Medicare Part D benefits negotiate drug costs.
If passed, Pelosi’s proposed law would have the Secretary of the Department of Health to negotiate the price of 25 to 250 drugs directly with pharmaceutical companies and make those prices available to both Medicare and private payers. A nonpartisan federal report shows it could reduce $158 billion in out-of-pocket costs over a decade.
President Donald J. Trump has expressed interest in reducing drug prices, but he has strongly opposed the bill. Republicans reportedly argue its passing could result in the pharmaceutical companies losing $500 billion to $1 trillion over the next year and bring fewer drugs into the market. Still, the bill is expected to pass the House, where the Democratic majority says the reduced cost of prescription drugs, including insulin, outweighs the risk of less pharmaceutical profit.
Despite the political divide, data from the Kaiser Family Foundation shows that 88 percent of American voters — both Democrats and Republicans — favor allowing the federal government to negotiate drug prices.
In regards to his amendment, Stauber said in his statement that “as more and more individuals across the nation die from rationing insulin, I believe members of Congress have a moral responsibility to act.” He continued, “My amendment will directly reduce the cost of this life-saving drug, and I strongly urge my colleagues to support it.”
Back in October, Quinn Nystrom, a former Baxter city councilwoman turned diabetes advocate, announced her campaign as part of the Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party for the Eighth Congressional District seat in the upcoming 2020 election. At the time, she told the Hibbing Daily Tribune about being 10 years old and raising money for research after her brother was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes. She was later diagnosed herself. She has since served as the National Youth Advocate for the American Diabetes Association and lobbied in the Minnesota State Capitol and Congress in her efforts to reduce the cost of insulin.
Nystrom told the HDT that she began considering a run for Congress earlier this year after Stauber “failed” to meet his promise of holding a town hall meeting on the rising cost of insulin. “[Stauber] has not made my life better in regards to healthcare and prescription drug coverage,” she said then. “He did not follow through on holding an insulin diabetes roundtable. I don’t think having a roundtable with the insurance industry is the same as getting information from the people suffering from high costs every single day.”
The previous day, Stauber took to his official Twitter page, where his team posted a picture of him meeting with a group of unidentified “key health care players” at the Holiday Inn Express in Duluth: “Minnesotans living in rural communities face a variety of challenges when trying to access quality healthcare. Rural America matters, so I was proud to participate in a roundtable discussion [with] healthcare stakeholders on how we can bridge the gap between rural and urban communities.”