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New York Sen. Schumer: cap costs of insulin

Sen. Schumer holds up an insulin vial during a press conference at Albany Medical Center, 2-23-22
Dave Lucas
Sen. Schumer holds up an insulin vial during a press conference at Albany Medical Center, 2-23-22

Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer was at Albany Medical Center Wednesday promoting legislation he says would cap the cost of insulin at $35 a month.

The New York Democrat says individual insulin vials sell for as much as $600 and one in four diabetics ration their insulin at great risk to their health because they can't afford it. Diabetes is the eighth-leading cause of death in the U.S.

Schumer says no Capital Region family should have to go bankrupt just because they need insulin to survive.

"In Albany County, it's estimated 7.9% of adults are diagnosed with diabetes; in Rensselaer County, 8.7% have diabetes, in Saratoga County, 7.8% have diabetes. And in Schenectady County 9.5% have diabetes," Schumer said, pointing out that in New York, Black adults with diabetes are almost twice as likely to die than their white or Hispanic counterparts.

He says 1.7 million New Yorkers have diabetes; 450,000 have it but don't know it. He heaped blame for the high prices on drug manufacturers.

"This is not a patented drug, you know, where you have to go pay the pharmaceutical company money for all their research and investment," said Schumer. "It was invented in 1921 by a Canadian doctor whose name was Alexander Fleming. And he was such a decent man that he donated all the research for $1. So you know, you hear, well, you got to pay a lot for these medicines because there's a patent and you have to pay for the cost of development. Not here. The reason the cost is so high is the outrageously convoluted system, with the pharmaceutical companies and the distributors of these drugs who pay far more attention to their own profitability, than to helping people."

Dr. Linda Riddick, professor of Pediatrics and head of the Division of Pediatric Endocrinology at Albany Med, says insurance also only allows patients a certain amount of insulin per month.

"Children with diabetes need insulin in order to live. But for too many families, skyrocketing out-of-pocket costs make it difficult for them to obtain this medication, even when they have insurance," Riddick said " It is even more hard to put those who have a high copay or they have a high deductible. Also, insurance companies only cover insulin for one month, a certain amount of insulin just for one month, they will not cover replacement insulin vials."

Riddick says she often sees parents distraught after a vial was accidentally dropped or lost, which can turn into hundreds of dollars lost. Schumer explained that the Affordable Insulin Now Act would cap out-of-pocket costs of insulin products at $35 per month for people with private health plans and Medicare Part D plans, including Medicare Advantage.

Coretta Killikelly, founder and executive director of Albany not for profit CEK RN Consulting, says adult patients are also adversely affected by soaring costs. She spoke of a patient on a fixed income struggling to manage his diabetes.

"His plan for treating his chronic illnesses is to go to the ER when he feels ill where he will be stabilized then discharged, and in a few months the cycle continues, said Killikelly. "Unfortunately, this is the consensus for a majority of our clients. This is not a solution. This practice is a recipe for disaster and negative impacts on many levels. A decrease in the quality of life for this individual. The cost associated with caring for patients who are readmitted for unmanaged chronic illnesses such as diabetes. One solution that would remedy this situation is to make medications more affordable for all."

The House approved the Affordable Insulin Now Act in November. Schumer says he'll bring the legislation to a vote in the Senate in March.

Dave Lucas is WAMC’s Capital Region Bureau Chief. Born and raised in Albany, he’s been involved in nearly every aspect of local radio since 1981. Before joining WAMC, Dave was a reporter and anchor at WGY in Schenectady. Prior to that he hosted talk shows on WYJB and WROW, including the 1999 series of overnight radio broadcasts tracking the JonBenet Ramsey murder case with a cast of callers and characters from all over the world via the internet. In 2012, Dave received a Communicator Award of Distinction for his WAMC news story "Fail: The NYS Flood Panel," which explores whether the damage from Hurricane Irene and Tropical Storm Lee could have been prevented or at least curbed. Dave began his radio career as a “morning personality” at WABY in Albany.
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