Op eds

This op-ed by Sen. John Kennedy (R-La.) first appeared in The Ouachita Citizen on June 29, 2022.

Diabetes is a tough diagnosis, and I wish no one had to live with it. While the world waits for a cure for diabetes, insulin often provides a crucial treatment option that staves off the illness’s worst effects. Insulin also ultimately cuts health care costs for Louisianians. The key is to make sure that Louisianians can afford it.

Twelve percent of Louisiana adults already live with diabetes, and an estimated 30,000 Louisianians receive this diagnosis every year. Unfortunately, patients with diabetes face annual health care costs that are twice as high as non- diabetics face, in part because insulin can be expensive.

I’m determined to expand our state’s access to insulin. One of my bills, the Seniors Saving on Insulin Act, would make a Trump administration cost- cutting program permanent. The bill would cap the price that Medicare patients pay for a month’s supply of insulin at $35. That means Louisianians with diabetes won’t have to choose between eating and taking a lifesaving medicine.

By making insulin more affordable, we can help people take better care of their health today and reduce their risk of complications tomorrow. Too many patients don’t regularly use their prescription insulin because of its price tag even though taking the medicine now lowers medical costs in the long run.

In fact, missing doses can create snowballing costs to the tune of more than $100 billion to America’s health care system every year. American taxpayers bear a large part of that burden, which is why we should expand improvements beyond Medicare.

Insulin costs put many northeast Louisiana families in a financial bind. Most diabetes sufferers require at least two to three vials of insulin a month, but some versions of insulin can cost between $175-$300 a vial. Insulin prices have been rising for decades. For example, a month’s supply of one brand of insulin cost $21 in 1996, but that price skyrocketed to $275 in 2019. I wrote the Ending Pricey Insulin Act to cap insulin costs at $50 a month for all Louisianians and Americans, including the uninsured.

The median household income in Ouachita Parish is $44,059, and a family of four faces annual health care costs of $10,128. Families in Concordia Parish spend more than 30 percent of their income to cover health care costs. With inflation surging to a 40-year high, the Ending Pricey Insulin Act would improve health care for many Louisiana communities.

The bill would also help Louisiana’s economy. When diabetes goes untreated, the cost of caring for sufferers takes an even heavier financial toll on our state: Diabetes and prediabetes cost Louisianians roughly $5.7 billion every year in direct medical expenses, taxpayer dollars, and lost productivity.

Louisianians don’t just rely on insulin. Many adults and children also depend on epinephrine to treat allergic reactions that could turn deadly. That’s why I’m also working to make sure that Federally Qualified Health Centers—which serve poor, uninsured, and rural Americans—help Louisianians get the medicine they need at prices they can bear. These centers can acquire prescription drugs at a discount, sometimes for as little as a penny.

So, I authored the Vital Medication Affordability Act to cement a Trump administration executive order that would ensure these centers pass along their discounts on insulin and epinephrine to Louisianians. This is not just fair for the patients who need these medicines to manage their conditions; it’s an important move that will reduce costs for Louisianian taxpayers.

Historic inflation has made gas, food, and other necessities harder for Louisiana families to afford. Congress must help make insulin cheaper and more accessible—both for diabetics and for the taxpayers who take on additional health care costs when the disease goes untreated. My legislation is the right place to start if we want to make our communities healthier across the board.