The extremely high price of insulin that millions of diabetics like me depend on to stay alive has been getting a lot of attention recently–and with good reason. Although it only costs about $10 to produce a vial of this 100 year old medicine, drug manufacturers have raised the price of insulin relentlessly over the past decade, putting this life-saving drug out of reach for many. It’s absolutely inhumane.
There’s finally some relief in sight, at least for older people in our country, thanks to a new law passed by Congress this August. The Inflation Reduction Act that lowers drug prices for people in Medicare and establishes for the first time a $35 cap on the monthly cost of insulin for seniors and people with disabilities.
This is progress that we can build on. Some Congressional lawmakers are already pressing for a broader insulin cap which Republicans blocked this August. That’s because diabetes is a rising public health epidemic that impacts over a 100 million people. Medicare Part D enrollees alone spent $1 billion out of pocket on insulin in 2020, more than four times the amount spent in 2007. But older people aren’t the only ones struggling: millions of people under 65 who have private insurance also routinely face ration insulin so they can pay for other basic needs like food and gas–especially as inflation continues to climb.
But rather than working across the aisle to address the problem, Senator Rubio and other Senate Republicans are trying to roll back the new law by repealing lower drug prices and the insulin cap. Doing so will give control over drug prices in Medicare right back to the same drug corporations who made record profits by price-gouging patients.
I’m a third-generation insulin dependent diabetic. Anyone who has diabetes knows–it’s not curable. I’m going to need insulin to manage my condition for the rest of my life and so is my dad, who lives in Texas and actually benefits directly from the new law. If Senator Rubio and his colleagues succeed in repealing the new law, there’s no hope that insulin will ever get more affordable for either of us.
Drug companies charge more for insulin in the United States than in other comparable countries. From 2014 to 2019, insulin manufacturers increased the price of an average of 54%, forcing many diabetics to ration insulin, skip doses or go into debt to get enough to stay alive. There are even people who have died because they could not afford insulin.
People who are uninsured, like the hundreds of thousands in the Medicaid coverage gap here in Florida, are at higher risk for going without treatment and without medicine. Uninsured people are more likely to pay full list price for insulin. That can be as much as $1000 a month out of pocket. Latinos, a big part of the population in Florida, are both more likely to be without coverage and to be diagnosed with diabetes than whites.
Over the years there have been countless hearings, investigations and excuses about why insulin is so expensive. But the mystery is easy to solve: drug corporations have monopoly control over prices. As long as drug corporations are allowed to charge whatever they want and raise prices whenever they want, they will do it on everything from insulin to asthma inhalers and cancer drugs.
Under the Inflation Reduction Act, instead of having unilateral control to set prices, drug corporations will have to negotiate for lower prices on some most expensive brand name drugs in Medicare. We know this approach will lower prices because this kind of drug negotiation already exists in the Department of Veterans and in Medicaid. Medicare pays more than twice as much as Veterans Affairs for prescription drugs, saving both taxpayers and patients billions of dollars
Negotiated prices for prescription drugs in Medicare isn’t a partisan issue: it’s common sense policy that has been supported by the majority of voters for years.
Diabetes doesn’t discriminate. Anyone may need affordable medicines to get better themselves or treat a family member. Instead of keeping Pharma in control of our drug prices, our elected leaders should be working to make sure that no matter where someone lives, how much money they have or what political candidate they vote for, they can access affordable life-saving medicines when they need them.
Denise Marrero lives in Hillsboro County, Florida.