A coalition of progressive advocacy groups fighting to lower drug prices in the U.S. took President Donald Trump to task Wednesday for falsely claiming during the first 2020 general election debate that his administration made insulin "cheap like water," an assertion belied by the large sums Americans continue to pay for the lifesaving diabetes medicine.
"Calling insulin 'cheap as water' reveals just how out of touch this president is with the millions of Americans who must continue to ration critical medicines every single day."
—Margarida Jorge, Lower Drug Prices Now
"Like just about everything else he has said over the last five years, Donald Trump's claims on lowering drug prices in last night's debate, particularly his outrageous claim about insulin, were nothing but spin and lies," Margarida Jorge, campaign director for Lower Drug Prices Now, said in a statement.
"Calling insulin 'cheap as water' reveals just how out of touch this president is with the millions of Americans who must continue to ration critical medicines every single day because of Trump's failure to follow through on his promises to hold Big Pharma accountable and lower drug prices," Jorge continued. "Drug prices for Americans are the highest in the world, and three and a half years into Trump's presidency—in the middle of a pandemic—the prices have continued to go up faster than any other medical good or service."
During a discussion on healthcare at Tuesday night's presidential debate, Trump touted his administration's supposed success in lowering the costs of insulin and other prescription medicines.
"I'll give you an example: Insulin. it was destroying families, destroying people, the cost. I'm getting it for so cheap it's like water, you want to know the truth. So cheap," Trump said, remarks that were not met with any real-time pushback from Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden or debate moderator Chris Wallace.
Trump just claimed that insulin is “as cheap as water” ... I don’t know what kind of water he is referring to.
— Lower Drug Prices Now (@peopleb4pharma) September 30, 2020
STAT reported following the debate that contrary to Trump's claim, "insulin still retails for roughly $300 a vial," and "most patients with diabetes need two to three vials per month, and some can require much more."
Outraged by Trump's comments, several Twitter users posted pictures of receipts for their recent insulin orders:
— Madison Carter (@madisonlcarter) September 30, 2020
Donald Trump: "Insulin is so inexpensive it flows like water."
My Pharmacy: pic.twitter.com/3GeT3MwGe5
— Morgan Schechter Shanahan (@the818) September 30, 2020
In late July, Trump signed a series of executive orders that he touted as "historic" initiatives to lower the costs of prescription drugs, including insulin. But critics warned at the time that the orders were largely toothless and would provide little relief to the millions of Americans paying exorbitant costs for drugs that are far cheaper in other wealthy nations.
"While some of these proposals could help a limited number of people access insulin or EpiPens, they are pathetically small compared to the massive executive power Trump could use to make medicine affordable and available for all, if he were willing to stand up to Big Pharma," Peter Maybarduk, director of Public Citizen's Access to Medicines program, told the Los Angeles Times.
As PolitiFact noted late Tuesday, Trump's insulin executive order "targeted a select group of healthcare providers that represent fewer than 2% of the relevant outlets for insulin. Between 2017 and 2018, insulin prices for seniors rose."