Let’s talk about a couple of life-saving liquids for a moment: water and insulin.
Water is a clear liquid that quenches thirst and hydrates. It is essential for human life and costs $1.69 per one liter.
Insulin is a clear liquid that manages blood sugar levels. It is also essential for human life, but it costs $300 per 10 milliliters.
That’s outrageous on its own (and its something I’ve written about before, and will continue to write about, until insulin is affordable and accessible to all).
But what’s even more bewilderingly egregious is the fact that on September 29, 2020, the President of the United States of America lied about his actions (or shall I say, inactions) taken to lower the cost of insulin during the first presidential debate.
My jaw dropped when I heard him boast that he’s reduced insulin prices 80-90% and that it’s “like water” for people with diabetes now.
There are so many things completely and utterly wrong with that statement that it’s almost impossible to cover them all, but let’s start with the bill I paid for my last 90-day supply of insulin. I forked over $200. If I was uninsured, I would’ve had to pay $1,236.15.
I don’t know any water in the universe that costs $200, let alone $1,236.15.
I’m not going to mince words here: Under our current President, the cost of insulin has not lowered. And if you think I’m exaggerating his lack of delivery on his promise to do so, then please read the following from my friends at T1International regarding executive orders that were released in July (if you don’t have time to read the entire thing, please read the first paragraph):
On July 24th*, President Trump released four executive orders intended to lower drug prices, including two targeted directly at lowering the cost of insulin for patients who rely on it. Despite his assertion that these orders are intended to “completely restructure the prescription drug market,” these orders will not do anything to fix the underlying cause of the insulin crisis in America. Patients will still need to wait months for the rulemaking process to run its course, and likely even longer after that if these orders end up in court. While T1International is glad that the administration has stated that making insulin more affordable is a priority, these orders miss the mark. We don’t need incremental bureaucratic steps as an election approaches – we need transformative change that will make our medicine more affordable now.
The two orders that are most relevant to the lives of people with diabetes are the order that requires federally qualified health centers (FQHCs) to allow patients to purchase insulin directly from the FQHC at a steeply discounted price, and the order that builds on the plan released by the Department of Health and Human Services to allow for the importation of drugs such as insulin from Canadian manufacturers. Neither order would hold Eli Lilly, Sanofi, and Novo Nordisk accountable for their price gouging, nor would they do anything to reduce the list price of insulin, which has soared by well over 100% since 2012.
As previously noted on T1International’s blog, getting insulin through a 340B pharmacy can help patients to afford this life-sustaining medication. On the surface, President Trump’s order to make it easier for patients to purchase insulin through an FQHC seems helpful. However, his executive order ignores that FQHCs were never the problem with the 340B program in the first place. It is hospitals that are most responsible for taking the discounts offered by the 340B program, and they use those discounts to generate profits, rather than serve patients.
Similarly, #insulin4all advocates know better than most that the insulin they need, which costs hundreds of dollars per vial in the United States, is more affordable just across the border in Canada. However, the Canadian government has already made clear that they are not interested in exporting Canada’s supply of medicine en masse to the United States just because the U.S. government refuses to confront Big Pharma and lower drug prices for the exact same medicine, rendering this policy ineffective on a broad scale.
99 years ago today, Frederick Banting and Charles Best first isolated insulin, which would soon make it possible for people with diabetes to manage their condition. But since then, unchecked corporate greed has put this life-saving medication out of reach for too many people. President Trump was correct in diagnosing the problem and its solution before he even took office when he said that pharmaceutical corporations are “getting away with murder.” Since then, he has considered every policy option available to bring drug prices down except for the most obvious: action that will reduce medication list prices for everyone, including people without insurance. If the president really wants to lower the price of insulin and address the crisis of high drug prices, he already knows the solution; the question is whether he has the political courage to pursue it.
*On September 13, President Trump released a new executive order that would implement a “most favored nation” price for drugs under Medicare Part B and Part D. Patients need relief from predatory insulin prices now, but the President’s executive order won’t deliver. While this Executive Order could dramatically lower insulin costs for some senior citizens if it goes into effect, that could take months or years if it ever happens at all — and patients don’t have that kind of time to wait for change. Rather than make announcements he can tout on the campaign trail, the President should use his existing authority under federal law to bring down the price of insulin immediately.–T1International Statement on Executive Orders, updated September 14, 2020
Frederick Banting said it all when he remarked: “Insulin does not belong to me, it belongs to the world.” And that is a sentiment that I will be taking with me when I go to vote this November.