The EpiPen controversy over the summer cast a beacon of light to a big problem in the healthcare industry.
Through congressional hearings, much was discovered about a company that is charging a huge amount of money and reaping massive profits on the backs of those needing the life-saving drug.
Stay tuned for the sequel, which may come to a congressional hearing room near you. This time, the subject matter will be insulin, which has skyrocketed 700 percent over the last two decades. The American Diabetes Association, for which I am a volunteer advocate, has launched a petition drive calling on Congress to hold hearings and take immediate action to ensure affordable insulin.
“The cost of insulin has risen steadily and steeply, creating financial hardships for individuals who rely on it to survive, particularly those who are uninsured or underinsured,” said Joe Franco, the ADA’s vice president, grassroots, and international advocacy.
Insulin is something that hits close to home for me since I have diabetes. With insulin, I’m living a good life and enjoying what I am doing with Idaho Politics Weekly and the Idaho Press-Tribune. Without insulin, I’d be a candidate for kidney dialysis and leg amputations – which often are the end results of blood-sugar levels running out of control.
Next year, because of the rising costs of insulin – and restrictions on my Medicare coverage – I expect to be paying about $3,000 out of pocket for insulin. I’m lucky because I can afford it. But for other seniors, that kind of a hit might as well be a death sentence. For working parents who have children with type 1 diabetes, the soaring cost of insulin is a financial backbreaker.
“The increased cost of insulin has resulted in a growing number of people with diabetes telling their healthcare providers they are unable to afford the insulin prescribed for them, thus exposing them to serious long- and short-term health consequences,” Franco said.
The ADA’s call to Congress is not falling on deaf ears, at least with Idaho’s congressional delegation. Sens. Mike Crapo and Jim Risch are members of the Senate Diabetes Caucus. Rep. Mike Simpson was the only member of the delegation to vote for last year’s spending package, which included $2 billion in increased funding for the National Institute of Health. Labrador has talked with me several times about how prevalent the disease is with Hispanics.
“I am aware of the steady rise in the cost of insulin in recent years and am deeply concerned that some Idahoans are rationing the medication because they can’t afford this life-saving drug,” Labrador said.
“Individuals should not be driven into bankruptcy because of exponential drug costs,” says Crapo.
“The rising healthcare costs in our country have hit people with diabetes particularly hard,” said Simpson. “That’s why it is important now, more than ever, to invest in critical research at NIH and the Special Diabetes Program, which will lead to better care and outcomes for patients.”
Risch also expressed support for continued diabetes research and added, “We must continue working to prioritize spending and find options to make diabetes treatment affordable.”
It’s unclear what President-elect Donald Trump will want to do with healthcare after he takes office, but Crapo has thoughts about what Congress should do.
“Congress must bring insurers, providers, and manufacturers together to discuss drug pricing,” he said. “We should also encourage the production of low-cost alternatives, such as generic medications and biosimilars. To do so, we should fight to clear out the current U.S. Food and Drug Administration backlog, streamline the approval process and encourage overall healthcare innovation.”
Labrador agrees that competition, and development of generic drugs, are part of the solution. “Congress must put more pressure on the FDA to do its job and accelerate the approval process. I expect better from the new administration and am hopeful that affordable access to insulin and other drugs will improve.”
Unfortunately, there are no magic wands that will suddenly make the cost of insulin affordable. But I’ll give the nod to our congressional delegation for listening and understanding the urgency to solve the problem.
If the rest of Congress hears the ADA’s call, things could get interesting in the hearing rooms as the makers of insulin try to explain the logic behind their price-gouging ways.
Chuck Malloy, a long-time Idaho journalist, is a columnist with Idaho Politics Weekly and an editorial writer with the Idaho Press-Tribune.