Insulin users can’t wait for long-range solutions

by Chuck Malloy
| August 17, 2020 11:06 AM

As a wise fellow once told me, “You turn 70 only once.”

And on that glorious day last month, I shot my age in golf (if you eliminate the last three or four holes). At any rate, what I did that day beat the alternative – and it’s something I don’t take for granted.

I’m one of about 34 million people in the United States with diabetes, a “pandemic” that has been with us long before COVID-19 came along. It hasn’t been easy. I’ve battled through an amputated toe, various levels of blindness and five-way heart bypass surgery 16 years ago. So, considering all of that, turning 70 was a joyous occasion. Today, my heart is strong, my vision is good and I can still play golf. I don’t know if my quality of life is through the grace of God, or dumb luck, but I’ll take it.

A lot of people have helped me get through those dark days, including my wife, family and an army of miracle-working doctors. One of my best “friends,” and one I wish I didn’t have, was insulin. Without it, I would have been dead a long time ago – or left dealing with complications such as a heart attack, a major stroke, kidney failure and more amputations. I certainly wouldn’t be writing these weekly columns, or playing golf.

So, what does all this have to do with politics? That’s like asking what the Seattle Seahawks have to do with professional football. Of the 535 members of Congress, I’d guess there would be near-unanimous agreement that the price of insulin is ridiculously high, and maybe bordering on criminal. The difficulty is finding a political solution.

For me, and under my Medicare plan, a 90-day supply of insulin costs in the range of $700. I can afford it, but so many seniors on fixed incomes can’t – even under Medicare plans. And for those without insurance, the cost of insulin is prohibitive for practical purposes.

Democratic Rep. Maxine Waters of California has introduced the “Affordable Insulin for the COVID-19 Emergency Act,” which gets no awards for fancy bill names, but offers a break to people who desperately need it. During normal times, and especially during this pandemic, so many people are left with the dire choice of buying food or paying for insulin. So, what do they do? People need food to live and millions of people with diabetes need insulin to live.

Waters’ bill, supported by the American Diabetes Association, ensures that insulin-dependent Medicare beneficiaries are able to obtain their prescriptions with no co-payments, no-insurance, deductibles or other cost-sharing for the duration of the COVID-19 emergency.

Don’t count on much Republican support there. Idaho Congressman Russ Fulcher says that having taxpayers underwrite the cost for insulin is not realistic. He and some of his GOP colleagues have talked about other solutions – including expanding insurance pools, promoting production of generic drugs to create competition, making reforms to the transferring of technology to other countries, and increasing production at home.

“We need to bring that back to the United States,” says Florida Republican Congressman John Rutherford. “We can’t leave it up to the Chinese communist party to decide how much insulin is going to be available.”

Rutherford and others have hailed President Trump’s executive order that would limit the monthly out-of-pocket costs for insulin to $35 for many seniors and Medicare recipients – which certainly is a step in the right direction. Unfortunately, according to Rutherford, Trump’s executive order doesn’t take effect until 2022. And some of the long-range plans supported by Republicans, while laudable, will take some time to implement.

Waters’ bill has flaws, including adding billions more to a deficit that is running out of control. The strength of her bill is that it addresses a human problem that is with us today, and can’t wait another two years to be resolved. At best, her legislation is one of these Democrat bills that can pass the House easily, then get killed by the Republican majority in the Senate – which is the fate of most Democrat-led bills. Republicans have no better luck in the House.

I wish I could give a more optimistic forecast.

Chuck Malloy is a long-time Idaho journalist and columnist. He may be reached at ctmalloy@outlook.com