President Donald Trump falsely claimed that insulin prices had dramatically dropped under his presidency during Tuesday night’s debate with Joe Biden. In reality, the price of insulin has largely remained unchanged and prohibitively expensive for a lot of people.
“I’ll give you an example. Insulin, it was destroying families, destroying people, the cost,” Trump said during an exchange about healthcare. “I’m getting it for so cheap it’s like water, you want to know the truth. So cheap.”
“Prescription drug prices, we’re going to allow our governors now to go to other countries to buy drugs because when they paid just a tiny fraction of what we do,” he added.
But for most people, insulin still retails for roughly $300 per vial, according to healthcare policy site STAT, and many diabetes patients require as many as two or three vials every month. For those keeping track at home, Trump’s tax bill from 2016 would cover the cost of roughly two and a half vials.
Insulin prices have skyrocketed over the past few decades. In 2002, the average price per milliliter of insulin was $4.34; by 2013, that had nearly tripled to $12.92 per milliliter, according to a 2016 study. And between 2012 and 2018, though the growth of insulin costs slowed, they still grew 11%, according to the conservative think tank American Action Forum.
Some state governments have begun to take matters into their own hands. Last year, Colorado capped insulin co-pays at $100 per month, though this only applies for people who are insured. (361,000 Coloradoans were uninsured in 2019, according to the Colorado Health Institute.)
But the federal government hasn’t been able to make the same progress. Though Trump ran on lowering prescription drug prices, and there’s reason to believe healthcare costs were one factor in his 2016 win, the administration has struggled to follow through on that promise.
Earlier this month, Trump signed an expanded executive order that would purportedly order Medicare to refuse to pay a higher cost for certain drugs than in other developed nations. But it’s unclear when it will actually go into effect due to expected legal and regulatory challenges. (Trump also said Tuesday that “drug prices will be coming down 80 or 90%.”)
And on the legislative side, the Senate has yet to take up a bill passed by the House last year that would lower prescription drug costs.
Biden hammered Trump on this point during the debate.
“He sends out wishful thinking,” Biden said. “He has executive orders that have no power. He hasn’t lowered drug costs for anybody.”
“He’s been promising a healthcare plan since he got elected,” the former vice president added. “He has none, like almost everything else he talks about. He does not have a plan. He doesn’t have a plan. And the fact is this man doesn’t know what he’s talking about.”
Cover: Judith Garcia, 19, fills a syringe as she prepares to give herself an injection of insulin at her home in the Los Angeles suburb of Commerce, Calif., Sunday, April 29, 2012. (AP Photo/Reed Saxon)