Opinion: More-affordable insulin can’t wait

Sen. Warnock: Finish bipartisan effort to pass legislation to make drug more affordable.
For the vast majority of the millions of Americans with diabetes who depend on insulin, the prices are steep, and many die because they can't afford the costs. (Arkasha Stevenson/Los Angeles Times/TNS)

Credit: TNS

Credit: TNS

For the vast majority of the millions of Americans with diabetes who depend on insulin, the prices are steep, and many die because they can't afford the costs. (Arkasha Stevenson/Los Angeles Times/TNS)

Virtually everyone knows someone with diabetes. Here in Georgia, where more than one million people are diagnosed with diabetes and another nearly 240,000 people are likely living with undiagnosed diabetes, it would be hard to find someone who isn’t either living with the condition or doesn’t know someone who is.

As a pastor, I’ve prayed with patients and their families when they were told their loved one suffers from kidney disease or advanced heart disease, or needed an amputation because of unmanaged diabetes. And the pandemic has made living with diabetes even more dangerous: people with diabetes are more likely to suffer from serious complications from COVID-19. This leaves them more vulnerable and resulted in 100,000 Americans dying from diabetes last year — a drastic 15% increase from pre-COVID-19 levels. It’s more necessary than ever that diabetics in Georgia have the insulin they need to manage their condition.

Raphael Warnock

Credit: U.S. Senate Photographic Studio,

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Credit: U.S. Senate Photographic Studio,

But that’s getting harder every day because insulin is getting more and more expensive. According to the American Diabetes Association, the average cost of insulin nearly tripled between 2002 and 2013, and the price of the four most popular types of insulin has tripled over the past decade. At the same time, while insulin users in Georgia and across the nation have been paying record prices, wealthy corporations have seen record profits. In fact, two of the world’s three insulin manufacturers saw major increases in gross profits in 2021, as high as 14.75%. And a bipartisan Senate report in 2018 laid out how pharmaceutical manufacturers have increasingly retained more and more revenue from their insulin sales over the last 20 years.

People across Georgia are feeling the high health and economic costs of this corporate greed. That’s what I heard recently from Evan, an 8-year-old type 1 diabetic, and his mom Kimberly, who told me she pays $9,500 a year for the health care he needs to stay alive. Insulin and insulin products account for much of that sum. Shannon, a mother of three from Darien, told me about her teenage son who was recently diagnosed with diabetes after a routine check-up. After the diagnosis, high insulin costs turned her family’s finances upside down. These are just a sample of the thousands of stories Georgians have shared with me in-person and through letters in the last few months. The exorbitant costs of insulin negatively impact not only the health and economic security of Georgia’s insulin users, but that of their families as well.

That is why in February I introduced the Affordable Insulin Now Act, which would cap the costs of insulin and insulin products, like needles, at $35 a month. This would immediately lower the out-of-pocket costs of insulin for hundreds of thousands of Georgians and Americans, and make insulin more affordable for people who need it.

This isn’t an ideological matter, it’s a practical one — and it has broad support across the political spectrum. For example, Republican-led states like Utah, Oklahoma, Texas and Alabama have instituted similar caps on insulin at the state level. My legislation has already passed the U.S. House of Representatives with bipartisan support, championed by Georgia’s own U.S. Rep. Lucy McBath. Senate leadership has already pledged to prioritize floor action on insulin in the coming weeks, and recently, my bill was included in a bipartisan proposal from two of my Senate colleagues. This comprehensive legislation will both cap out-of-pocket costs and lower insulin list prices, which will extend affordability to uninsured insulin users.

It’s clear that bipartisan momentum is building in Washington to finally lower insulin costs, and not a moment too soon for the hundreds of thousands of insulin users in Georgia who need relief. There’s now a choice before the Senate: we can either reward wealthy corporations for padding their bottom lines by continuing to raise the price of a hundred-year-old drug, or we can act now to make insulin more affordable and save hardworking Georgia families money.

Before Memorial Day, the Senate must decide which of these two paths we will take, whether it’s with my bill or through a larger, bipartisan package. I won’t stop pushing until we act for Evan, Kim and Shannon’s families, and every Georgian who is impacted by high insulin costs. They are looking to the federal government for help right now. It’s time for my Senate colleagues to make a choice: will they continue to play political games? Or will we act for the good of millions of Georgians and Americans?

Rev. Raphael Warnock, D-Ga., is a U.S. senator.

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