Jesimya David Scherer-Radcliffe, 21, passed away just a month after the loss of his health insurance forced him to begin rationing insulin to treat his diabetes. However, Scherer-Radcliff’s death is not the only of its kind, with insulin prices doubling from 2012 to 2016 causing many individuals to ration the drug.
Why have insulin prices grown exponentially over the past few years? There is no single reason, other than the privatization of America’s health care system which has allowed this practice to become standard. Many experts place the blame on large pharmaceutical companies and pharmacy benefit managers (PBMs) like CVS Health. PBMs regularly work with pharmaceutical companies in an effort to reduce the costs of various prescriptions through health insurance, but this reduced cost can result in higher out-of-pocket expenses for those without health insurance.
“Every time a PBM extracts a deeper discount, an insulin manufacturer has the incentive to take a price increase to quote ‘make themselves whole,’” stated Rena Conti, a health economist.
As a result, many of the diabetes patients who can’t afford the out-of-pocket expenses of insulin simply go without, facing dangerous consequences. A recent study published in the Journal of The American Medical Association found that a total of 1 in 4 diabetes patients admitted to rationing insulin because of its high cost. However, big Pharma shows no intention of lowering prices willingly.
Nicole Smith-Holt, the mother of Alec Smith who also passed away after rationing insulin, spoke with the Post about her son’s death, naming big Pharma as her son’s true cause of death. Smith-Holt also mentioned that a bill failed to pass in Minnesota involving affordable insulin solutions for struggling patients. This legislation was named the Alec Smith Emergency Insulin Act, after her son, which would allow patients to fill their insulin prescriptions whether or not they were able to afford the cost of the drug. However, legislators failed to bring the bill to fruition, which many experts state was likely due to pharmaceutical lobbying.
While such bills could assist low-income patients with the cost of insulin, the true problem appears to revolve around America’s health care system and the massive pharmaceutical companies that control it. Truly addressing and solving the issue will take federal action and the support of lawmakers and other authorities.
Some Americans travel to Canada for their insulin
Some diabetics have found the prices to out of reach that they have traveled to Canada to purchase insulin there as it is far less expensive. For example, one group of Minnesota diabetics recently traveled to Canada to purchase $34 insulin that would cost $380 in America. During the trip to Canada, one patient bought a three-month supply of insulin, the maximum amount that can be purchased without a prescription from a local doctor. The cost of insulin under her family’s new insurance policy would total nearly $1,000 per month.
A vial of insulin, which typically lasts patients around 10 days, costs around $300 in America. However, in Canada, the same vial can be purchased for just $30, one tenth of the cost.
The price of insulin almost doubled from 2012 to 2016, according to Health Care Cost Institute, with diabetics in 2012 spending an average of $2,864 on the drug and $5,705 in 2016.
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