Kildee says getting insulin legislation through Senate will be difficult
Late last week, the House of Representatives passed a bill that would cap out-of-pocket costs of insulin at $35 a month. WCMU’s Rick Brewer spoke with Congressman Dan Kildee, a Democrat from Flint and original co-sponsor of the bill, about the specifics of this legislation and its future.
This transcript has been edited for clarity.
Rick Brewer: The bill would ensure there's a $35 cap out-of-pocket cost for insulin. Does that include people who have insurance, don't have insurance? Explain a little bit more about that.
Rep. Dan Kildee: Yeah, this is only for anybody who is on Medicare or has some form of insurance, because it's an insurance. It's a piece of legislation regulating insurance companies and the cost that insurance companies can pass on to customers. That's as far as we can go. It's one step, there's more that we would like to do for sure. But since we've had no support on the other side of the aisle, or on the other side of the building in the Senate, for our broader legislation that would affect the price of many drugs for everyone. We thought, well, let's do what we can. And let's try to save as much money for American families and save as many lives as we can. And this was what we came to. So it's a step. It's not the whole solution. But it's a big step.
Rick Brewer: I wanted to ask you to clarify something as well, when you say $35 a month, is that on a per portion level? Or is that $35 total?
Rep. Dan Kildee: Yeah, that's the total out of pocket that an individual would have to pay, regardless of how much insulin they buy. Some insulin dependent diabetics don't need as much insulin as others, but some could use several vials a month. This legislation would say no matter what your usage is, your out of pocket costs will only be $35 per month.
Rick Brewer: Opponents of the bill said that fixing prices is not a cure for our healthcare system. And that we should be investing in new cures, treatments, innovation and that there will be unintended consequences if we start price fixing things. How do you respond to that?
Rep. Dan Kildee: Well, yeah, I mean, first of all, they use the term price fixing, but what we're talking about when it comes to the broader bill is negotiation. That's how the free market works, what they have what the opponents have done has fixed the price, when they fix the price to whatever the seller decides. Because the way the current law works, the federal government is by law prohibited from entering into negotiations for the purchase of drugs through Medicare. And that just doesn't make any sense. I mean, we negotiate the price of everything. The Pentagon, when it buys, it puts out bids and negotiates with the final bidder. Every other branch of government for every other product that we purchase, is done through the free market through some form of give and take between the buyer and the seller. The pharmaceutical companies have persuaded in this case, Republicans, to stand with them and not allow us to pass legislation to negotiate. It's frustrating, because when I was managing the bill on the floor, when this came up for a vote last week, and I heard from the other side that this won't cure diabetes, and we shouldn't fix prices, and this wouldn't lower the total cost of insulin but it would just minimize the out of pocket from an individual. My response was, well, no kidding.
Rick Brewer: You said there's going to be some Senate opposition to this bill. What do you think it's gonna take to get it done?
Rep. Dan Kildee: Well, I think it takes people. There's nothing quite as eloquent in the ears of a member of the House or Senate than the loud voices of the people we work for. And diabetes is not an ideological disease. It doesn't just affect people who are Democrats, or just Republicans, or independents or people who aren't political at all. Tens of millions of people depend on insulin. Millions and millions of people of all political stripes have had to miss insulin dosage because they couldn't afford it. If they speak up, I don't have much doubt that the Senate is going to hear them whether they'll act on what they hear is another question. After all, it is the Senate and they sometimes get in their own way. But I hope that that that they at least listen, if they do. I think we'll get this legislation to the President's desk.
Rick Brewer: Congressman Dan Kildee thank you so much for your time.
Rep. Dan Kildee: Thank you very much.