Indiana Sens. Todd Young, Mike Braun voted to kill insulin $35 price cap

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*Correction: A previous version of this story misattributed a quote to Sen. Todd Young. It should be attributed to Jay Kenworthy, a spokesperson for Young.

Updated Thursday afternoon: Eli Lilly & Co. supports legislation to cap insulin pay at $35 a month, spokeswoman Antoinette Forbes said in a statement emailed Thursday to IndyStar.

“We support legislation to cap out-of-pocket costs for Medicare Part D and privately insured patients. We believe a cap could provide a critical financial safeguard for patients and support the $35 copay cap for insulin.”

When asked by IndyStar whether Lilly communicated that position on the legislation to Indiana Sens. Todd Young and Mike Braun as part of the company's lobbying efforts, she did not provide an answer.

When first asked Tuesday prior to publication whether the company had supported the legislation, a spokesperson emailed a lengthy statement about ways the company tries to keep down prices.

"Lilly is deeply committed to insulin affordability and has long-advocated for holistic, sustainable policy solutions, such as passing through rebates directly to people who use insulin and limiting out-of-pocket costs, that can significantly help people who use insulin."

When asked in a follow up email prior to publication whether that meant the company was against the cap, the company provided a duplicate copy of the statement.

When asked Thursday to characterize whether they met with Lilly representatives and, if so, what was said, a spokesman for Young did not immediately respond. A spokesperson for Braun did not know whether Lilly had met with the senator for this amendment, but said CEO David Ricks in an earlier call to Braun stated his support for a previous legislation that would have capped insulin prices at $35.

When asked the same questions earlier in the week regarding Lilly's lobbying efforts, spokespersons for Braun and Young did not address that issue.

Published Thursday morning: U.S. Sens. Todd Young and Mike Braun, who received some $60,000 since 2018 from executives, employees and the political action committee of insulin maker Eli Lilly and Co., voted to kill a proposal to cap the price of insulin to $35 a month for many patients.

Young and Braun were among the 43 Republicans who voted to take the proposal out of the Democrat's sweeping bill to address inflation and climate change — making it three votes short of the 60 votes needed to advance. The legislation still included a $35 insulin monthly limit for people on Medicare.

In a break from the typical votes on partisan lines, seven Republican senators voted with Democrats to advance the insulin cap: Bill Cassidy and John Kennedy of Louisiana, Lisa Murkowski and Dan Sullivan of Alaska, Susan Collins of Maine, Josh Hawley of Missouri, Cindy Hyde Smith of Mississippi. Insulin cost has skyrocketed in the last few decades, forcing patients to dangerously ration the lifesaving drug. The three major insulin makers — Lilly, Sanofi and Novo Nordisk — have all raised prices of insulin in near lock-step, prompting lawmakers' investigations and patients' lawsuits. All the while, insulin makers raked in huge profit margins on a drug that cost little to make.

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An insulin price cap wasn't the solution, said Jay Kenworthy, a spokesperson for Young. He supported an effort to allocate $3 billion to provide insulin for uninsured patients and those with insurance plans where patients pay a large share of the cost through insurance deductibles.

"This would have been a more targeted solution than arbitrary price caps that will kill competition in the marketplace and increase insurance premiums for everyone, but Democrats blocked it," Kenworthy said.

Braun said drug prices are high because "the path from drug producer to pharmacy is complex, opaque, expensive, and full of special interests prioritizing profits over patients."

"I’ve crafted real solutions that will address the underlying problems with our broken health care system and lower the costs of prescription drugs by pulling back the curtain on how prices are set and restore true market competition to the industry, " he said in a statement. "And I supported an amendment that would have made insulin available to low income Americans at significantly discounted rates through community health centers, which all Democrats voted against.”

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Lilly CEO David Ricks has spoken out against price regulations, arguing they'd reduce jobs and hold back research and development.

When asked if they opposed the $35 cap, the company pointed to other ways of reducing insulin costs.

"Lilly is deeply committed to insulin affordability and has long-advocated for holistic, sustainable policy solutions, such as passing through rebates directly to people who use insulin and limiting out-of-pocket costs, that can significantly help people who use insulin," a spokesperson said in a statement.

Lilly and other insulin makers spend millions a year to influence political decisions, donating to Democrats and Republicans alike. In the last two years, Lilly spent more than $11 million lobbying politicians, according to the nonprofit OpenSecrets, which tracks political contributions. The company spent more than $800,000 in donations in the 2022 election cycle.

Since the 2018 election cycle, Young received more than $30,000 from Lilly's political action committee and its executives and employees, according to OpenSecrets. In that time span, Braun has received more than $28,000. The organization counts all donations by political action committees and individuals giving $200 or more.

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Companies pay into campaigns to get meetings with politicians, said Andrew Downs, emeritus associate professor of political science at Purdue University Fort Wayne.

"You say thank you so much. You take phone calls from them. You take meetings with them when they asked for them. You probably had to meet them several times to get them to give you that money to begin with," he said.

But the donations logged on the Federal Election Commission's website are one part of a company's political influence. Money is often funneled through organizations that pay to influence elections outside of the purview of the FEC, a sourcing of funding popularly known as "dark money," said Downs.

Efforts to lower insulin cost are pretty popular with voters, said Downs, giving some Republicans some cover to break with their party.

Under pressure from patients and lawmakers, insulin makers have been lowering their price with discount programs. Lilly started a program during the pandemic that allows patients to download discount cards online that lowers their costs to $35 a month. The cards are good for a year and are subject to a monthly maximum amount, but a spokesperson said those limitations should not affect the majority of people.

It's unclear how many people use the program. A spokesperson said the company's affordability solutions help at least 20,000 people in the country pay for insulin. About 7 million Americans use insulin.

Sa'Ra Skipper, an Indianapolis resident with Type 1 diabetes, said it's a Band-Aid solution that inevitably will still leave some people struggling to pay for the medication.

"It's not enough," she said.

This article originally appeared on Indianapolis Star: Indiana Sens. Todd Young, Mike Braun voted to kill insulin price cap