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Joe Biden sees a $35 price cap on insulin as a key campaign issue. It’s not that clear

Vaseline 2 months ago

The Biden administration also announced agreements with drugmakers Sanofi, Novo Nordisk and Eli Lilly to cap insulin co-payments at $35 for people with private insurance. They account for more than 90% of the US insulin market.

But Biden continues to say that many people were paying up to $400 monthly, which is a huge expense exaggeration. A Department of Health and Human Services study published in December 2022 found that people with diabetes who were enrolled in Medicare or had private insurance paid an average of $452 per year, not monthly.

The high prices mentioned by the president mainly affected people without health insurance. But the rates of the uninsured do fallen to record lows because of the Obama administration’s landmark health care law and the Biden White House’s aggressive efforts to ensure that those eligible to enroll do so more often.

So in effect, one of the government’s policy initiatives undermines the economic case for another.

However, that effort has not reached everyone.

Yanet Martinez who lives in Phoenix and supports Biden. She doesn’t work and has no health insurance, but gets insulin for about $16 a month thanks to deep discounts at her local clinic.

The lower prices only apply if her husband, a landscaper, does not earn enough to exceed the monthly income limit. If he does, her insulin could jump to $500-plus, she said.

“I’ve heard people talk about the price of insulin going down. I haven’t seen it,” said Martinez, 42. “It should be uniform. There are a lot of people who can’t afford it and that makes things very difficult.”

Sen. Rafael WarnockD-Ga., is sponsoring bipartisan legislation to make the $35 insulin limit universal, even for people without health insurance. In the meantime, he said, what has been accomplished by Medicare recipients and drug manufacturers agreeing to lower their prices is “literally saving lives and saving people money.”

“This is a good policy because it puts people first rather than politics,” Warnock said. He said that as he travels through Georgia, a crucial swing state, in November, people say, “Thank you for doing this for me or for someone in my family.”

That includes people like Tommy Marshall, a 56-year-old financial services consultant in Atlanta who has health insurance. He was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes at the age of 45 and injects rapid-acting insulin several times a day. He paid about $250 for four- to eight-week medications last November, but saw the price drop by half in February after Novo Nordisk agreed to lower prices.

“If I were his political advisor, I would tell Biden to talk about it all the time,” said Marshall, a lifelong Democrat and longtime public advocate for lowering insulin prices, including for the advocacy group Protect Our Care Georgia.

Marshall said the price caps “have meaningful emotional resonance” and could influence a close election, but also conceded: “You’re talking about 18 to 65 year olds. I would imagine there are probably two or three other issues at play.”

“Maybe there’s someone sitting on the fence,” he added, “this might sway them.”

Geoff Garin, a pollster for Biden’s reelection campaign, said the insulin cap is one of the president’s top-performing issues. He said the data was “clear, consistent and overwhelming.”

Rich Fiestaexecutive director of the Alliance for Retired Americans, which has endorsed Biden, called the insulin limit a strong issue for the president among older voters.

“For those who are convinced – and there still are, believe it or not – drug costs are a very important factor,” said Fiesta, whose group has 4.4 million members and advocates for health and economic security for the elderly.

Trump’s campaign did not respond to questions. But Theo Merkel, a senior fellow at the conservative Paragon Health Institute, countered that the insulin price cut was an example of “policies written to meet the talking points, rather than the other way around.”

Merkel, a Trump White House adviser on health policy, said insulin manufacturers have long favored caps on the amount policyholders pay because it gives them more leverage to secure higher prices from insurance companies.

The president’s approval ratings on health care are among his highest on a range of issues, but still only 42% of American adults approve of Biden’s handling of health care, while 55% disapprove, thus a February poll from The Associated Press and the NORC Center for Public Affairs Research.

KFF found it’s own poll in December that 59% of American adults trust the Democratic Party will do a better job addressing health care affordability, compared to 39% of Republicans, even though only 26% of respondents in the same poll said that they were aware of the price ceiling for insulin.

“In political terms, Democrats and Biden have an advantage on health care,” Altman said. “They put pressure on it.”