On his third day in the White House, President Biden stopped a Trump-era plan to lower the price of insulin for low-income and uninsured Americans. It was part of the new administration’s blitz to unravel anything and everything related to former President Donald Trump. That blind hatred came at a cost, though. In this case, it was a higher price for life-saving treatments paid by Americans in need.
More than a year later, the Biden administration and Democrats in Congress have still not delivered on their promise to lower insulin prices for our country’s most vulnerable. In fact, they are actively voting against Republican-led efforts to do just that.
On a sleepy Sunday morning, every single Democrat rejected a Republican amendment to provide insulin at $10 per prescription for anyone who is low-income (below 350% of the federal poverty level), including the uninsured. I voted yes because it was common sense. So did every single Senate Republican. Yet the Democrats unanimously rejected the provision.
Later that day, Democrats and their media enablers proclaimed, “GOP senators blocked a $35 insulin price cap.”
“Republicans have just gone on the record in favor of expensive insulin,” declared Sen. Ron Wyden. Those lines are factually untrue and totally misleading. Republicans blocked a Democrat counter-amendment, all right, but in doing so they ensured that insulin will become more affordable, not less.
The Democrats’ grand proposal was to cap the price of insulin at $35. That’s not much of a bargain — it’s more than 300% what low-income Americans would have paid under the Republican amendment. What’s more, that arbitrary price cap would have only applied to the already insured, leaving some of the most vulnerable out in the cold. Most importantly, however, the Democrats’ plan would have actually made insulin more expensive in the long term.
Though still too high for many Americans, the price of insulin is falling. The annual net cost per insulin treatment decreased by 20% between 2007 and 2021. In Florida, some Medicare enrollees pay as little as $24 for a monthlong supply of the drug. Meanwhile, under private insurance, last year’s average insulin cost was only $23.19, more than $6 below 2018 levels.
This is happening because of economic competition. Pharmaceutical companies and insurance agencies are jockeying for the lowest price to attract more buyers. Competition will continue to lower the price of insulin as time goes on — unless, that is, the federal government implements heavy-handed interventions like price controls.
If Congress mandated $35 insulin, do we really think pharmaceutical companies would keep competing for the lowest price? More likely they would play it safe and congregate around $35. That would raise insulin costs for most Americans, not lower them.
The Democrats’ price controls would also have stifled innovation in insulin production. In 2020, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved the development of generic insulin drugs. Over time, that will bring down the cost of insulin even further. But companies would invest less in the research and development of new drugs under price controls because there would be less incentive to innovate.
In contrast, the Republican plan would have preserved market competition while ensuring people with the greatest need get the treatment they require. That the Democrats rejected it shows they care more about maintaining support from their radical base and scoring partisan points on Twitter than helping real Americans.
If the Democrats have a serious proposal to lower drug prices, Republicans like me will come to the table. But we will not indulge in political gamesmanship or impose medicines that are worse than the disease on the American people.
• Marco Rubio is an American politician and lawyer serving as the senior United States senator from Florida, a seat he has held since 2011.