U.S. Senator Raphael Warnock speaks during a roundtable discussion on insulin prices at the Little 5 Points Pharmacy on Monday, February 28, 2022 in East Atlanta. (Photo: Itoro N. Umontuen/The Atlanta Voice)

Tuesday was World Diabetes Day and there was a moment of bipartisanship in the United States Senate. Senator Reverend Raphael Warnock and Senator John Kennedy of Louisiana a bipartisan report on insulin deserts. These are areas with high rates of uninsured people, and high rates of diabetes are more than 800 Insulin deserts.

In 2022, Congress capped the monthly copay of insulin for seniors and people with disabilities on Medicare at $35. This policy went into effect on January 1, 2023, and is estimated to benefit 1.5 million seniors and people with disabilities who use insulin. But, a provision to extend the $35 copay cap to those with private insurance failed in the Senate by just three votes.

In their report, Senators Kennedy and Warnock have called for the passage of the Affordable Insulin Now Act of 2023. This legislation is an attempt to address insulin deserts and give everyone access to affordable insulin.

“This is where you see the tragic convergence of counties, some 800 of them across our country, where you have elevated rates of diabetes, diabetes, and elevated rates of uninsured people,” said Senator Warnock during an interview with CNN’s Abby Phillip Tuesday night.

Little 5 Points Pharmacist Ira Katz explains the practical cost of insulin to U.S. Senator Raphael Warnock on Monday, February 28, 2022 in East Atlanta. (Photo: Itoro N. Umontuen/The Atlanta Voice)

According to the legislation, it would accomplish the following:

  • Require private group or individual plans to cover one of each insulin dosage form (i.e. vial, pen) and insulin type (i.e. rapid-acting, short-acting, intermediate-acting or long-acting) for no more than $35 per month.
  • Require the Secretary of Health and Human Services to establish a program to reimburse qualifying entities for covering any costs that exceed $35 for providing a 30-day supply of insulin to uninsured patients.
  • Be fully paid for by an offset, so it will not add to the deficit.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that Americans spend $327 billion annually to cover health care expenses and lost wages related to diabetic care.

Protect Our Care Georgia State Director Liz Ernst issued the following statement:   

“For decades, millions of diabetics in Georgia and across the nation living in insulin deserts have been forced to pay outrageous prices for vital medication. Despite insulin vials costing only a few dollars to produce, drug companies unscrupulously inflate the price to hundreds of dollars per month, forcing patients to ration insulin and skip doses — which can have devastating consequences. This report illustrates the urgency to reduce the high costs of this life-saving drug for all populations. We commend Senator Warnock for his unwavering commitment to fighting for a future where quality, affordable health care is a reality for every American.”

  • As many as 2.75 million Americans, including those with private insurance and the uninsured, cannot afford their insulin
  • Uninsured Americans in Insulin Deserts are more likely to fall under the federal poverty line and less likely to have access to sufficient internet than uninsured Americans in non-Deserts–making it difficult for them to access insulin manufacturers’ patient assistance programs
  • Uninsured Americans in Insulin Deserts are also less likely to be college graduates than uninsured Americans in non-deserts
  • Uninsured Americans in Insulin Deserts are also more likely to be people of color than uninsured Americans in non-Deserts

According to the report, there are 813 insulin deserts across the country, and they are largely located in southern states.  Additionally, 75 million non-elderly people live in Insulin Deserts, including over 12 million who are uninsured.

“The cost of insulin is rising for too many Louisianians who rely on it just to survive. I’m grateful to work with Sen. Warnock to issue this bipartisan report, which details the need for Congress to pass our Affordable Insulin Now Act,” said Kennedy. By capping prices at $35 for every patient, we can help lower future health care costs associated with complications that arise from untreated diabetes.”

Itoro Umontuen currently serves as Managing Editor of The Atlanta Voice. Upon his arrival to the historic publication, he served as their Director of Photography. As a mixed-media journalist, Umontuen...