It’s of no surprise that many of Americans are struggling to afford their prescription drugs as prices continue to rise. But yet, little attention has been brought to the diabetes community. Where millions are dependent on a drug (hormone) that is needed everyday to stay alive.
Diabetes has been around a very long time. There was a prescription for frequent urination, its most common symptom, on an Egyptian papyrus dating back to 1500 B.C.
But it wasn’t until 1921 when a Canadian doctor named Dr. Frederick G. Banting and a medical student, Charles H. Best discovered insulin. Before insulin, the only treatment for Type 1 Diabetes was a starvation diet that inevitably led to death.
In 1923, Dr. Frederick G. Banting sold the patent to the University of Toronto for $3 in hopes to ensure that no company could have a monopoly over this life-sustaining medication and everyone could have access to it. The discovery has transformed diabetes from a death sentence into a manageable disease.
Dr. Banting believed insulin was a gift to humanity.
But once the University gave pharmaceutical companies the right to manufacture the drug royalty-free, diabetes quickly became their most profitable cash cow.
Insulin is a billion-dollar industry with zero low-priced generic versions on the market. While most name-brand drugs have generic versions that cost less than half the price, insulin is different.
Drug company officials defend their actions, saying they must bring in enough money for research and development. But critics say companies are hiding behind the innovation argument and are really just angling for bigger profits as the demand continues to rise for the drugs they sell.
There has been debate whether these newer versions are worth the cost. The replacing insulin derived from animals with a genetically engineered human form has been beneficial. But beyond that, the cost is still high for the older and newer insulins on the market, and insurance companies decide what they will cover regardless.
When accused of price hikes, blame also gets placed on the middlemen. The middlemen happen to be the wholesalers, pharmacies, and pharmacy benefit managers (PBMs). PBM’s are blamed for taking a piece of the pie. The rebate system is based primarily on the percentage of the drug’s list price. So as drug prices continue to rise, the rebates do as well. Meaning everyone benefits in the end, as long as everyone gets their share.
Insulin Prices Are Continuing To Rise
The price of insulin that has continued to rise over the years has led many into debt, bankruptcy, and even to the point of rationing insulin (which can cause complications or death). Millions of diabetics and their family members are struggling more than ever to afford not only their insulin but food and other basic necessities.
While there are patient assistance programs available, not everyone qualifies. One must apply and meet specific requirements. If accepted, a PAP may not always cover the insulin that a patient is recommended to use. Insulin isn’t a ‘one shoe fits all’ type of medication.
The United States has the highest cost of drugs compared to other countries.
Insulin is monopolized by the 3 big pharmaceutical companies — Eli Lilly, Sanofi, and Novo Nordisk — and the price for the insulin products made by those manufacturers has risen astronomically over the last decade. Humalog, a form of insulin that carried a sticker price of $21 a vial in 1996, today costs $255. A 34-year-old form of insulin, Humulin, priced at $17 a vial in 1997 now costs $138 a vial. Many diabetics also may need more than one vial of insulin a month.
The American Diabetes Association’s board of directors is calling on Congress to hold hearings to investigate dramatic increases in insulin prices and to take action to ensure that people have affordable access to the essential drug.
The Diabetes Community Is Speaking Out
Many in the diabetes community (whether diabetics or parents) are taking to social media in the form of hashtags and elongated posts to express their frustration and desperation for change. The desire of millions is to find a cure for diabetes. But many have come to grips with the assumption that the cure will never come because the pharmaceutical companies won’t allow it. Our lives are in the hands of pharmaceutical greed and we need the price gouging of life-sustaining medication to end.
Bernie Sanders has recently brought attention to the Justice Department to investigate price increases and possible price collusion. But the insulin drug companies later rejected accusations.
President Donald Trump has also shared his dismay with the drug companies on the campaign trail and in recent press conferences. His interest is in finding solutions to fix the broken prescription drug market.
“They are getting away with murder”
The nation faces a diabetes epidemic
Nearly 6 million Americans — young and old depend on insulin to stay alive. Insulin is not a luxury, it’s a necessity of life. We need transparency, affordability, and access to all.
Insulin is our right because, without it, we die.