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Medicine

Diabetes co-pay relief ‘huge,’ Carroll pharmacists say

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A provision in the Build Back Better Act being debated in Congress would cap co-pays on insulin for diabetes at $35 a month.

Jerry Fleshner says the refrigerators in pharmacies are among their more important features.

It’s where Fleshner’s Carroll Clinic Pharmacy and Lincoln Highway Pharmacy store insulin for customers with diabetes.

“My refrigerator is the most valuable piece of equipment I have,” said Fleshner, a longtime Carroll pharmacist.

Hundreds of people in the Carroll area have diabetes, Fleshner said. Nearly a quarter million Iowans have diabetes. Nationally, there 34 million people living with diabetes, according to the American Diabetes Association.

That considered, major financial relief for people with diabetes and their families could be on the way through the federal Build Back Better Act, which includes a provision limiting out-of-pocket co-pays for insulin to $35 a month.

“It’s huge,” said Phil Markway, a pharmacist with the Carroll Apothecary.

Markway says he’s concerned that some people with diabetes and limited financial means are rationing their insulin, going periods without taking it or reducing doses. As a result of high costs, one in four insulin-dependent Americans reports needing to ration their insulin, the American Diabetes Association reports.

“Hopefully this can get passed through,” Markway said of the $35 cap. “These poor people need it.”

The Kaiser Family Foundation reports that insulin users without Part D low-income subsidies saw annual per capita out-of-pocket spending on insulin increase 80 percent from 2007 to 2017 — from $324 in 2007 to $580 in 2017. Fleshner said the sheer volume of people with diabetes makes the decision on the Build Back Better provision important. 

“Insulin is very expensive and it is a significant portion of health-care costs,” Fleshner said.

Build Back Better cleared the U.S. House of Representatives, and the bill, a massive social-policy vehicle not seen since the New Deal, is expected to head to a vote in the Senate as soon as Dec. 13.

The only member of the Iowa federal delegation to support the bill is U.S. Rep. Cindy Axne, a Des Moines Democrat who is seeking reelection to Congress in the new 3rd District, which includes Greene County.

“There are 230,000 Iowans living with diabetes who have seen the price of insulin skyrocket over the last decade, and I was thinking of every single one of them when I voted to cap the cost of insulin at $35 last month,” Axne told The Times Herald. “Too many people are forced to choose between buying their medicine and paying their rent, and it’s time to change that. I proudly voted for the Build Back Better Act — which not only caps the out-of-pocket cost of insulin at $35 a month, but also empowers Medicare to negotiate lower drug prices and penalizes drug companies whose prices rise faster than the rate of inflation. This legislation ensures more Iowans will be able to afford lifesaving medications, and I’m pushing to get these provisions signed into law before the end of this year.”

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