Insulin: Its high price is killing people
“Jesimya David Scherer-Radcliff might still be alive if he could have afforded his insulin,” said Sarah Jones in NYMag.com. Instead, the Minnesota man, 21, died in June after trying to ration his supply—and his “death is not an isolated event.” Insulin costs have skyrocketed as a trio of pharmaceutical companies has essentially cornered the market with no generic alternative. A vial that sold for $35 in 2001 is now retailing for almost $300. This has led to devastating choices for many of the 7.5 million diabetic Americans who rely on insulin to survive. Nearly 30 percent are now rationing due to cost, while others have resorted to injecting dog insulin, or smuggling vials from Canada, where it still costs $30. At Scherer-Radcliff’s funeral, his mother said he was “murdered” by Big Pharma—and that the cause of death was “corporate greed.”
Claims of corporate profiteering are an oversimplification, said The Wall Street Journal in an editorial. Insulin has gone from “a mere drug made from animals to a sophisticated class of products” dispensed with “innovations like pens that make dosing and delivery easier.” Someone has to pay for such advances, or you remove the profit motive that drives their creation. Actually, the drug companies are gaming the system, said William Galston, also in the Journal. Today, Eli Lilly, Novo Nordisk, and Sanofi “command the lion’s share of the U.S. insulin market,” and there isn’t a single generic because insulin is a “biologic” medication made of living cells that is harder to replicate and given greater regulatory protection. The three companies continually released new insulin formulations with minor tweaks to protect their patents and keep cheaper, generic insulin off the market.
The insulin crisis “is part of a deeper malaise in American health care,” said Alan MacLeod in The Guardian. Hospital bills are the leading cause of bankruptcy, and one-third of all GoFundMe donations are for medical expenses. Even people who do have insurance face ruinous deductibles that force them to shell out $4,000 or more before coverage kicks in. Polls show that “Americans are more scared of getting sick than of a terrorist attack.” These things don’t happen elsewhere in the developed world. Drug prices are regulated, health insurance is universally provided, and no one “must pay thousands of dollars a year simply to not die.” ■