Jan 27, 2020 - Health

Trump administration wants to lower seniors' insulin costs

Illustration of a syringe full of cash with some cash coming out.
Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

The Trump administration is working on a proposal to lower seniors' out-of-pocket costs for insulin, which have nearly doubled over the last decade.

Why it matters: Voters care deeply about prescription drug prices, and if the policy comes to fruition, it could both help seniors afford their insulin and give the administration political points.

Details: The White House, the Department of Health and Human Services and the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services are jointly working on the policy.

  • Details are unclear or undecided. One idea is to give insurers an incentive to offer plans with lower cost-sharing, a source familiar said.
  • "The goal is to make sure it’s technically sound and if it helps patients, get it out" as soon as possible, a senior administration official said.
  • A CMS spokesperson declined to comment.

HHS Secretary Alex Azar is recused from the effort because he was previously the president of Eli Lilly, one of three dominant insulin manufacturers.

The big picture: Even as patients are struggling to afford prescription drugs across the board, insulin stands out.

  • It's an old drug whose initial patent was sold for a mere $1. Yet its price continues to rise.
  • One-third of Medicare beneficiaries had diabetes in 2016, and total Part D spending on insulin rose from $1.4 billion in 2007 to to $13.3 billion in 2017, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation.
  • Seniors spent, on average, $588 out-of-pocket for insulin in 2016 — nearly double the price they paid in 2007.

Yes, but: Lowering patients' out-of-pocket spending probably wouldn't lower the actual cost of the drug, meaning that it'd get shifted onto taxpayers.

Between the lines: The Trump administration has either dropped a lot of its drug-pricing ideas or has seen them held up in court.

  • But a meaningful insulin policy could be a big political win, especially because insulin is a poster child for runaway prescription drug prices.

Go deeper: The outrage over insulin prices

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