Op eds

This op-ed by Sen. John Kennedy (R-La.)  first appeared in the Washington Examiner on July 21, 2023.

More than one in 10 Americans live with diabetes, and many of them cannot afford the insulin they need to stay out of the emergency room.

For years now, Congress has nibbled around the edges of insulin affordability rather than addressing the issue directly. This failure to act results in needless suffering and financial stress for families living with diabetes, and it saddles the American taxpayer with billions of dollars in related healthcare spending.

How? It's simple: Americans with diabetes need insulin to maintain healthy blood sugar levels. When insulin costs too much, Americans take less insulin than they need to stay healthy. They get sick. They miss work. They end up in the emergency room. And they and the entire healthcare system suffer.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that Americans spend $327 billion annually to cover healthcare expenses and lost wages related to diabetic care. Louisiana alone spends an estimated $5.7 billion on care related to diabetes each year. Texas spends $25.6 billion. West Virginia spends $2.3 billion. Washington, D.C., spends $700 million .

But this spending isn’t inevitable. If patients can afford the upfront care they need to stay out of the hospital, Americans could save billions.

That’s why Sen. Raphael Warnock (D-GA) and I introduced the Affordable Insulin Now Act . This bill would ensure that all Americans, including those without insurance, have access to a 30-day supply of insulin that costs no more than $35.

This plan isn’t one of Washington’s out-of-control spending policies. Any costs associated with capping insulin prices will be fully offset by cutting spending elsewhere in our $6 trillion annual federal budget. More importantly, improving access to affordable insulin can lower federal healthcare spending overall. That means we’re taking a big burden off both diabetics and taxpayers.

Since Congress enacted the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare) in 2010, total national health expenditures have increased by more than 36% — and that’s adjusted for the soaring inflation we’ve seen under President Joe Biden. The average private health insurance premium has doubled. I’m under no illusion that Washington will give up its spending addiction, but I believe we can work together to pursue policies that actually improve patient health outcomes to save money now and for years to come. Capping insulin prices is one way to do that.

This relief is needed now more than ever. Over the past 20 years, the rise in insulin prices has been steep. Top insulin brands have increased prices by as much as 600 %. Even with health insurance, some diabetes patients today must pay upwards of $300 per month for their insulin. Because of complications from diabetes, diabetic Americans face average monthly medical expenses 2.3 timeshigher than Americans who don’t live with diabetes.

With those numbers, you cannot blame more than 1.3 million Americans for rationing their insulin rather than taking the full dose they need. Without the proper dose though, these Americans risk serious and expensive health consequences, including heart attacks, strokes, amputations, blindness, and kidney failure. Today, Americans with diabetes are three times more likely to end up hospitalized than those without diabetes.

Hospital stays aren’t cheap. According to a study from the Department of Health and Human Services, the average cost of hospitalization for diabetic patients range from $8,400 to $23,000.

Nor is the math complicated. We cap the price of insulin at $35 per month today, and we can save thousands of dollars, if not tens of thousands of dollars, per patient in avoided hospital expenses. You don’t need to work on Wall Street to appreciate this return on investment.

Without adding a penny to the federal budget, Congress can make it affordable for every American to get the insulin they need to stay healthy, go to work, care for their children, contribute to the economy and their community, and avoid costly emergency room visits that end up costing American taxpayers.

It is hard for diabetic Americans to choose between a month-long supply of life-saving insulin or stocking the pantry with food for their families. It shouldn’t be hard for Congress to choose between capping the price of insulin at $35 per month or continuing to allow taxpayers to foot the bill for preventable emergency room visits. Let’s stop flirting with the idea of insulin affordability and actually fix the problem.