February 27, 2019 at 5:00 am | St. Louis Post-Dispatch
Soaring insulin prices are a genuine emergency in America. Many diabetics are self-rationing or using expired supplies. In the worldās most advanced nation, some are dying because they canāt afford a simple injection.
Critics allege artificial price inflation by the insulin industry. Congress finally is conducting hearings to rein it in.
But on this medical topic, the underlying problem is a health care system obsessed with profit, even if it means suffering or death for patients who canāt pay the asking price. The insulin crisis is one symptom of a wider emergency that wonāt end until America changes its health care delivery system.
Type 1 diabetes develops when a personās pancreas stops producing insulin, which regulates blood sugar. Diabetes was virtually always fatal until scientists discovered how to process injectable insulin from animal pancreases.
Type 1 diabetes still canāt be cured, but that it can be managed remains one of medical scienceās greatest achievements. For the 1.25 million Americans living with Type 1 diabetes today, consistent access to insulin is a matter of life or death.
Insulin prices have skyrocketed recently, far beyond rates of inflation or most other prescription drugs. One vial of insulin that sold for $31 in 2001 now costs $270.
Uninsured diabetics have responded by using less insulin than theyāre supposed to, tempting a range of health hazards. Victims include people like Alec Smith, 26, of Minneapolis, who died in 2017, weeks after aging out of his parentsā insurance coverage. He couldnāt afford a $1,300 insulin refill and tried to self-ration his existing supply.
The causes of the price spikes are unclear. Major insulin manufacturers like Eli Lilly have blamed supply chains, the insurance industry and others. Critics allege the manufacturers engage in strategies to fix prices, obfuscate pricing methods and keep generic insulin out of the U.S. market. Congressional Democrats and some Republicans have vowed to get to the bottom of it. They must; lives depend on it.
The insulin crisis is one element of a broader problem: Americaās entire health care system is more expensive and less accessible than in other developed countries. When otherwise healthy 26-year-olds are dying because of the terms of insurance policies, itās time to look at alternatives closer to the āMedicare for allā model.
Copyright St. Louis Post-Dispatch. Reprinted with permission.