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Trump administration moves toward capping insulin costs for seniors

May 27. 2020
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By The Washington Post · Seung Min Kim, Yasmeen Abutaleb · NATIONAL, BUSINESS, HEALTH, POLITICS 

WASHINGTON - President Donald Trump announced Tuesday that his administration is taking action to cap insulin costs for seniors with diabetes - a move that comes as polls show Trump lagging behind former vice president Joe Biden, the presumptive Democratic nominee, with that group of voters.

The administration has brokered an agreement between insulin manufacturers and some Medicare prescription drug plans that would lower costs for some seniors beginning in 2010 by capping co-pays at $35 for a monthly supply - a figure that administration officials said would lead to about a two-thirds drop in out-of-pocket costs and would encourage seniors to be able to continue taking insulin. 

"We have reached a breakthrough agreement to dramatically slash the out-of-pocket costs of insulin," Trump said from the Rose Garden during the late-afternoon event. "You know what's happened to insulin over the years, right? Through the roof." 

The president, who is not known to be diabetic, added: "I don't use insulin. Should I be? I never thought about it." 

Surgeon General Jerome Adams later explained to Trump that he did not need to take insulin because the president's body produces it on its own.

Trump's relative strength with seniors, particularly in key swing states, helped seal his win against Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton in 2016. In Florida, more than 20% of those who voted in the 2016 election were older than 65, and Trump won the Florida senior vote by 17 points, according to exit polling. 

But Trump has struggled with those older voters as he competes with Biden, according to state and national polls. 

A Quinnipiac University poll of registered voters released last week shows Biden leading by 10 points nationally among voters over 65. A Quinnipiac poll of Florida voters in late April found that 52% of Florida seniors support Biden, compared with 42% for Trump.

The president took a swipe at Biden during the official White House event, saying: "Sleepy Joe can't do this. That I can tell you." 

Kellyanne Conway, adviser to the president, said the timing of the announcement was geared more toward open enrollment and dismissed the notion that it was aimed to shore up Trump's political struggles with the senior demographic.

"We just continue to fight for seniors," Conway said on a call with reporters. "This is a president who promised as a candidate that he would, quote, 'not touch Medicare or Social Security.' He's touched it in the right way." 

Trump has lost support with older voters as many have perceived the president to have mishandled the coronavirus pandemic, which disproportionately affects older Americans. More than one-third of the country's nearly 100,000 covid-19 deaths have been in nursing homes. Covid-19 is the disease caused by the novel coronavirus.

Before the pandemic, Trump and his administration were focused on lowering drug prices, which consistently polled as a top concern - especially among older voters. The price of insulin has become a frequent focus for politicians who complain about high drug prices because of its ubiquity. 

Trump embraced and regularly touted traditionally Democratic ideas to lower prices, including allowing Medicare to negotiate drug prices with pharmaceutical manufacturers and proposing an international pricing index that would base the price of some Medicare drugs on the lower prices paid in other countries - both proposals that are anathema to congressional Republicans. 

Little came of those efforts, however, as Trump's advisers and Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar regularly feuded over the best policies to lower prices. 

The Trump administration had begun moving forward on a proposal late last year to allow states, drug wholesalers and pharmacies to import some cheaper drugs from Canada, though officials did not say when the plan might go into effect.

Trump also embraced a legislative proposal from Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, and Ron Wyden, D-Ore., the committee's top Democrat, that would limit price increases in Medicare's prescription drug benefit to the rate of inflation or otherwise force companies to pay a penalty in the form of a rebate. It would also limit seniors' out-of-pocket drug costs to $3,100 a year. 

Trump last week told Grassley at a Senate Republican lunch that he still wanted to move forward on the legislation, but it faces opposition from most Senate Republicans, including Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky. 

Seema Verma, the administrator for the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services singled out two swing states critical to the president's reelection - Florida and Michigan - where more than 95% of Medicare Part D beneficiaries had access to a lower premium plan under the Trump presidency. 

Verma said that nearly 90 insurers that offer about 1,750 health care plans have applied to the effort to lower insulin costs and that, if effective, this plan could be replicated to reduce costs of other expensive drugs.

"We fully anticipate that many plans will go further in lowering or even eliminating co-pays for insulin," Verma said, later adding: "For those whose health and even lives depend on insulin, these savings are nothing short of a godsend."

Accompanying Trump at the Rose Garden event were executives from various pharmaceutical companies, health insurers, patient advocacy organizations and the head of the American Diabetes Association. 



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