Medicare beneficiaries will pay no more than $35 a month for insulin in 2023, while ongoing work will be needed to ensure that everyone in the United States with diabetes who needs insulin can afford it.
As of January 1, 2023, the new provision tucked into the Inflation Reduction Act, signed into law by President Biden in August 2022, means that beneficiaries who take insulin via pen or syringe, covered under Medicare part D (prescription drugs), fall under the $35/month co-pay cap.
On July 1, 2023, the same out-of-pocket limit will also apply to those who take insulin via pump, which falls under Medicare part B (durable medical equipment).
The bill originally included the co-pay cap for people with private insurance as well, but that was stripped out as part of the reconciliation process and didn’t garner the necessary 60 Senate votes to keep it in prior to passage.
However, since 2019, 22 US states have passed their own co-pay caps for people with state-regulated private insurance, ranging from $25 to $100 for a 30-day supply. A few states also cap the cost of diabetes devices as well.
Moreover, federal legislation could still address co-pay caps for people with private insurance, as well as include provisions to help those without insurance to afford insulin, Niels Knutson, director of government relations for the type 1 diabetes advocacy organization JDRF, told Medscape Medical News.
“There’s a whole menu of ideas on how to address the issue of insulin affordability. Most pathways to solving this on the federal level will require 60 votes in the Senate. There is universal recognition that this is a problem. The challenge becomes is everybody on the same page for how to fix it,” Knutson said.
Insulin Act Is Best Path Forward
JDRF is supporting the bipartisan Improving Needed Safeguards for Users of Lifesaving Insulin Now (INSULIN) Act, introduced in June 2022 by US Senators Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH) and Susan Collins (R-ME), who co-chair the Senate Diabetes Caucus. The bill includes a co-pay cap and also provisions to encourage insulin manufacturers to reduce their list prices.
“The bill is unique in that it adds a pathway to reduce the cost of insulin for everybody, regardless of whether they have insurance or not…We see the Insulin Act as being the best path forward and the most viable path to have the biggest impact for the most people,” Knutson explained.
At the same time, JDRF is also supporting a nonprofit pharmaceutical company called Civica, which plans to bring biosimilar versions of the insulin analogs glargine, lispro, and aspart to the US market by 2024 at a cost of no more than $30 for a vial and $50 for a box of prefilled pens. The state of California is expected to partner with Civica as well.
“This is just another access point for insulin, especially for folks who are uninsured, that would make a big impact,” Knutson said.
Other entities that have announced intentions to bring lower-cost insulin to the US market include the Korean firm Undbio and billionaire entrepreneur Mark Cuban through his company Cost Plus Drugs.
“Insulin is such a clear and present crisis that we need to address,” Knutson said. “You’re seeing this problem being recognized and solutions from all different angles coming at it.”
Knutson is an employee of JDRF.
Miriam E. Tucker is a freelance journalist based in the Washington, DC, area. She is a regular contributor to Medscape, with other work appearing in The Washington Post, NPR’s Shots blog, and Diabetes Forecast magazine. She is on Twitter: @MiriamETucker.
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