It is life blood, to diabetics. It is liquid gold, to corporations that make it and sell it. As the price of insulin spikes yet again, more than 10% of Utah’s adult population is impacted. Patients’ advocates, including doctors, are calling it a health care crisis, as policy makers try to find a cure.
THE DIAGNOSIS AND THE BILL
“Her name is Haley, and she’s a delight. She’s a fun-loving, really smart, vivacious human being.” Tears well up in her eyes, as Utah Senator Deidre Henderson talks about her daughter. Haley found out last year she had Type 1 diabetes. Her mother says the entire family was stunned by the diagnosis, and then shocked by the first bill.
“We didn’t even buy the medicine, and the price tag was over twelve-hundred dollars.”
And then, they had to buy the insulin.
“When my daughter was born, in 1996, the cost of that vial of insulin was 25-dollars. And now, that same little vial of insulin is over 300-dollars.”
And Haley needs three to four vials of insulin per month. It’s far too expensive, her mother says, for Haley and her husband, a graduate school student, to afford, without the help of family. But Senator Henderson says her daughter is better off than many, who are now forced to make the decision about whether to ration their insulin supply.
THE COST OF RATIONING
“Hell breaks loose and everything starts going down.”
Dr. Alireza Falahati, President of Utah Endocrinology Associates, is an outspoken critic of drug manufacturers and brokers, and their radical price increases on life-and-death drugs. He’s warning his patients against responding to the most recent price hike, by rationing insulin.
“You may suddenly go from perfect health, from a symptom standpoint,” he says, “to having a massive stroke, or losing the circulation to a limb, and having an amputation, losing your vision, or losing your kidney function and having to end up on dialysis.”
The doctor says big pharma insulin sales profits are putting his patients at risk.
“We are talking about insulin types that have been around since 2000,” he says. “And now, suddenly, the prices are going up. Why?”
THE EFFORT TO REFORM
State Representative Norman Thurston is trying to find the answer to that question.
“We want to get top-to-bottom transparency,” he says. “We want to know everybody that’s involved in this entire supply chain, who’s making money, who’s making excess profits, where’s it going? And then we can have the discussion of what to do about it.
Thurston and a handful of others at the capitol will make another push in the 2019 session to get laws on the books that will require transparency by the industry, and that will allow Utah to import prescription drugs from Canada, at Canadian prices, a fraction of the cost of the same drug, in the U.S.