Fifteen years ago patients with diabetes would have paid about $175 for a 20-milileter long vial of insulin. Today they have to pay $1,500 for the same amount! Insulin prices are skyrocketing, forcing diabetes patients to choose between basic necessities and the medicine that will keep them alive. Recognizing this crisis, Senator Tina Smith (D-MN) has just introduced the Emergency Access to Insulin Act, which will reduce insulin costs.
This outrage is personal for Senator Smith. Two years ago, Minnesotan Alec Smith, who suffered from type one diabetes, died after rationing his insulin because it cost too much for him to easily afford it. Between 2006 and 2012, the average price of insulin has almost doubled, and a quarter of diabetics cut back on insulin because of higher costs. This all the more outrageous given that insulin was developed almost a century ago.
The Emergency Access to Insulin Act, S. 2004, amends the Public Health Service Act to establish insulin assistance programs. It gives states the power and ability to provide emergency supplies of insulin to people who need them: uninsured or under-insured diabetics will be granted emergency insulin via these programs, and federal grants will fund this process. S. 2004 also makes it easier for lower-cost generic insulins to come onto the market-it reduces the current market exclusivity for insulin and penalizes insulin manufacturers if they raise insulin prices by more than 10% per year.
Three drug companies (Sanofi, Eli Lilly, and Nov Nordisk) control the vast majority of the $27 billion global insulin market. And the insulin market is broken; drug companies, pharmacy benefit mangers (PBMs), doctors, and even the Food and Drug Administration share the blame for this state of affairs. Each of the major drug manufacturers has filed hundreds of patents on their products, the devices that deliver them, and how they are manufactured. Every actor bears some responsibility and all of them should be held accountable.
This is a welcome proposal that will ensure insulin is available to everyone who needs it and cannot afford it, and prevent people from dying because they can't afford their medicine. Reducing insulin prices and drug prices requires long term solutions and fundamental reform, but in the short term, people who need insulin to stay alive should be able to afford it and obtain it. The Emergency Access to Insulin Act should be enacted without delay.