30 million Americans with diabetes rely on insulin; nearly 10 percent of the population.
The cost of the four most popular types of insulin has tripled in the last ten years – the average price by 2016 had risen to $405 per month – and in early 2019 the prices keep soaring.
As many as one-quarter of people with diabetes are rationing the medication they need to save their lives either by under-dosing themselves or even skipping some doses altogether.
In the richest country the world has ever known, how are we okay with this?
At last, the House of Representatives is investigating “skyrocketing prescription drug prices”, and in response the health care company Cigna recently announced a new program that will cap the 30-day cost of insulin at $25 for members of its Express Scripts program. Cigna plans to expand this program to all its members.
Sounds good, and it is. But the catch is twofold: 1), Cigna covers less than one percent of Americans with diabetes; and, 2) their employers will have to opt into the change in plan.
So it’s somewhat of a band-aid solution. Patients are still subject to the pricing whims of the pharmaceutical companies.
And of course a huge issue is that consumers have no power to boycott companies that supply an item they need to stay alive.
Universal Health Care Would Fix This Problem
I know I’m like a daggone broken record on the subject of universal health care (having written numerous op-eds in favor of it for this site) but currently, we have no better answer to the enormous public health crisis of unaffordable life saving drugs than the so-far-unused option to use the government’s power to negotiate with drug companies.
In countries with universal health care, the government sets a cap on how much it will pay for the drug. If the pharmaceutical companies disagree, they lose out on the entire market. Period.
But instead, the US takes a free market approach. So, drug companies negotiate over prices with private insurers. And, astonishingly, Medicare is prohibited from negotiating drug prices. Even though it’s the nation’s largest buyer of drugs!
This gives drugmakers an insurmountable advantage – and kills Americans.
Generic Insulin Would Also Help
Astonishingly, there is no true generic insulin available because as each insulin improvement was available, the drug companies received patents that killed the possibility for cheaper generic options.
Since in 2018 Big Pharma spent a mind-boggling $281.4 million on lobbying Congress, we can be assured that more patents will be granted; and, Americans will continue to be unable to afford this basic life saving drug, will self-ration, and risk death.
What a grotesque situation.
But The Tide Is Shifting
If you or someone you love is a diabetic who relies on insulin, there’s a glimmer of hope. One reason for optimism is a recent poll showing that the majority of Americans now favor universal health care. Even a majority of Republicans!
Another reason is that the 2018 midterm results, which were largely a referendum on health care, showed the Democrats that they could run to the left on health care – and win.
All of the major 2020 Democratic presidential candidates have shifted comparatively far to the left on their health care policy; astonishingly so, if you compare the platforms to 2016.
We Americans are waking up to our political power, and not a moment too soon.
Keep an eye on how both political parties respond. So far, the GOP response has been to double-down on eliminating the Affordable Care Act, rip away protections for pre-existing conditions, and make a vague promise of “something better” they’ll unveil right after the election.
Hmm. I’ve heard this before, and I ain’t buying. As Ronald Reagan liked to say, “Trust, but verify.”