Senate bill to limit insulin costs to $35 per month nears floor debate, Schumer says

So far in the Biden administration, lawmakers haven't been able come to terms on agreeable drug pricing measures. But one issue could be gaining steam in the Senate.

After a bipartisan pair of senators on Wednesday unveiled the Insulin Act, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) says he plans to put the issue on the floor "very soon," Reuters reports. For patients, the bill would cap the cost of insulin at $35 per month.

Specifically, the bill would encourage insulin makers to reduce their list prices by ensuring insurers and pharmacy benefit managers cannot collect rebates on certain discounted insulins. Those discounted insulins would be eligible for "cost-sharing protections," and the bill would cap patient copays or coinsurance at $35 per month, a one-page summary says.

Sanofi, Eli Lilly and Novo Nordisk are the three major insulin players and have faced routine criticism over the years for rising list prices. For their part, industry advocates argue that ballooning rebates are contributing to higher prices and that net prices aren't keeping up.

The Insulin Act aims to incentivize manufacturers to reduce their list prices—those before any rebates and discounts—to the 2021 net price levels for Medicare Part D. Companies that choose to participate would certify their prices with HHS, which would maintain a list of qualifying products. 

Sens. Susan Collins, R-Maine, and Jeanne Shaheen, D-New Hampshire, unveiled the bill on Wednesday. As Reuters notes, it remains to be seen whether Schumer will be able to find the 60 necessary votes for it to pass in the chamber. The House of Representatives earlier this year passed legislation that would cap insured patients' insulin costs at $35 per month, the news service points out.

The latest legislation comes after somewhat of a lull in drug pricing talks after the Biden administration's early push on the subject. As part of the Build Back Better Act, the administration wants to advance measures such as Medicare price negotiations, but that bill has stalled in the Senate for months after its passage in the House, Fierce Healthcare reports.

At a speech in Virginia last week, President Joe Biden also advocated capping price hikes on Medicare drugs to the level of inflation. He said the administration wants to hold drug companies "accountable for absurd price increases."