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Senators call on Schumer to hold insulin vote

Schumer on insulin

Schumer in 2022. Photo: Lev Radin/Pacific Press/LightRocket via Getty Image

Senators backing legislation to cap the cost of insulin in the commercial market and for the uninsured are calling on Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer to bring it up for a vote this year.

Why it matters: Capping insulin costs at $35 per month could provide relief to millions of people with diabetes. But senators haven't reconciled dueling bills that would accomplish that, or tamped down concern that a fix could be a magnet for other more controversial health proposals.

  • Democrats often tout on the campaign trail that they capped monthly insulin costs at $35 for Medicare recipients in 2022, but efforts to go further remain stalled.

What they're saying: Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, who's sponsoring one of the insulin bills with Sen. Susan Collins, told Axios she had not heard an update from Schumer on bringing it to the floor but "absolutely" wants him to.

  • She also used a hearing with HHS Secretary Xavier Becerra last month to call for action. "I hope that we will see leadership bring it to the floor this year because I think we have the votes to pass it," she said.
  • Sen. Josh Hawley, one of a handful of GOP backers of the idea, also urged Schumer to hold a vote, calling it a "no-brainer."
  • Senate HELP Committee Chair Bernie Sanders told Axios he also backs a vote, with the caveat that he wants other measures like PBM legislation included "as part of a broader prescription drug bill."

Schumer has repeatedly touted an insulin fix, citing $300 to $600 per prescription costs and fears that patients are rationing the drug.

  • Insulin makers Eli Lilly, Novo Nordisk and Sanofi have voluntarily lowered their prices, but backers say it's essential to enshrine lower prices in law.

Asked about the holdup at a press conference Wednesday, Schumer responded: "We're working very hard to get it done. It's complicated, as you know; there's opposition from some people on it. But I'm very eager to get it done. It's a high priority."

  • Part of the problem is there are two possible vehicles — one from Shaheen and Collins, the other from Sens. Raphael Warnock and John Kennedy.
  • Despite months of discussion, the lawmakers haven't agreed on how to combine them.
  • "We're still working out some details that we're talking to committee staff about with respect to covering the uninsured, and so hopefully we will have some agreement on that in the near future," Shaheen said.

Between the lines: Even if that happens, senators are certain to try to attach additional priorities that could be contentious, making it hard to vote on a clean bill.

  • Sen. Chuck Grassley, for example, said he supported action on insulin but also wants to attach PBM legislation. "I want PBMs, whatever it takes to get PBMs," he told Axios.
  • Noting the tricky vote math, he said, "It's not a problem for me for PBMs and insulin to be put together, but that loses some of us."

The bottom line: Even if insulin legislation did pass the Senate, it is very unlikely to pass the GOP-controlled House.

  • House Energy and Commerce Chair Cathy McMorris Rodgers has called the insulin cost cap a "socialist price scheme."
  • Though major drug companies already announced voluntary initiatives to lower insulin costs, supporters of cost caps say they cannot be trusted to maintain those programs.
  • "As soon as the threat of statutory action evaporates, it will go right back up," Hawley said.
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