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Insulin, politics and the mid-term election

by CHUCK MALLOY
| April 11, 2022 11:47 AM

Those who are faced with the grim choice between paying for insulin (which they can’t afford) or groceries, received what appeared to be good news from the House of Representatives earlier this month.

The House passed the Affordable Insulin Now Act, which caps consumer insulin costs at $35 a month for most consumers — responding to President Biden’s call in his State of the Union address.

But don’t get too excited, because there are a lot of politics to be played before this initiative becomes a reality. Chances are high that the bill, and the concept of affordable insulin, will go nowhere.

Almost all House Republicans voted against the insulin act, including Idaho’s Mike Simpson and Russ Fulcher. And it’s getting a similar frosty reception from Senate Republicans, including Idaho’s Mike Crapo, the ranking member of the Senate Finance Committee.

It will take at least 60 votes for the affordable insulin act to pass in the Senate, and that’s not happening as the bill stands. In general, according to Crapo, there is too much politics being played and not enough bipartisan commitment to solve the issue.

“Democrats have one solution and one solution only. That is government price fixing in the drug industry, and it goes beyond insulin,” Crapo told me. “Government price fixing never works and never has worked. It’s imposing federal control over the market, which basically is socializing our economy.”

Crapo says the insulin bill, if it becomes law, will mean higher insurance premiums and higher co-pays for everyone, including insulin users. That’s what government price fixing leads to, he says.

“Insulin is a problem, and we must deal with it because of the human impact and the human tragedy that comes out of the current system. So, yes, we must fix it,” Crapo said. “But we can’t fix it by making it more expensive for everyone else and potentially driving away competitive products out of the market.”

The affordable insulin act was part of the president’s comprehensive Build Back Better initiative that was scrapped for lack of unanimous support from Democrats. Party leaders are bringing back parts of Build Back Better as stand-alone bills, and insulin pricing is one that tugs at a lot of heartstrings. There are talking points galore for Democrats, especially with mid-term elections looming, and they are taking every opportunity to blast those mean-old Republicans for standing in the way.

“The harsh reality is, the cost of insulin isn’t just out of control — it is devastating families. It is bankrupting them. It is hurting patients. And it has to stop,” says Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash.

“Right now, insulin is being used as a battleground,” Crapo says. Privately, he said, his Democratic colleagues involved in close races are encouraging Republicans to vote against the liberal-leaning bills so everyone can move on to bipartisan approaches.

That’s where Crapo wants to go.

“Republicans are not being unreasonable; in fact, the opposite is true,” Crapo said. “Yes, we are rejecting this particular solution. But, no, we are not rejecting the effort to deal with insulin. There are multiple bipartisan bills that are in the works, and they can get the 60 votes needed to pass.”

One that Crapo says would win is his Lower Costs, More Cures Act, which addresses insulin and other drugs. That measure is stuck in committee. Fulcher is sponsoring the same bill in the House and that, too, is lying somewhere on a cloakroom floor.

“Democrats are not willing to get into bipartisan solutions,” Crapo says. “This sounds partisan on my part, but Democrats in this entire Congress have not been willing to run bipartisan legislation. They are trying to cram down their solutions.”

Don’t hold your breath for anything getting done — at least in this session of Congress. The political focus is on the mid-term elections, with Democrats hoping to hold onto slim majorities in the Senate and House.

In the meantime, people with diabetes are going to have to continue paying skyrocketing prices for insulin. And there will be people who will continue to ration insulin just to save a little money, which is a dead-end street — and often a ticket to an early grave.

Drug companies will continue to rake in high profits on the backs of people who need insulin to live, and the politicians in Washington are allowing it to happen.

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Chuck Malloy, a longtime Idaho journalist and Silver Valley native, is a columnist with Idaho Politics Weekly. He may be reached at ctmalloy@outlook.com.