PORTLAND, Ore. â€”Â
The cost of insulin is on the rise. So much so that many diabetics are cutting corners to pay for it.
Oregon lawmakers have tried to increase insulin’s availability but like much of the country, they’ve been met with roadblocks.
Now Senate President Peter Courtney is preparing for a new push.
He says he plans to introduce a bill on insulin during the next legislative session.
More than 30 million Americans live with diabetes and rely on insulin to stay alive.
The lengths some people go to be able to afford the medicine vital to their life is actually costing them their life.
â€śIf I donâ€™t take insulin for four days, Iâ€™m probably dead,â€ť Paul Cohen, who lives with Type 1 diabetes, said.
Cohen was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes 30 years ago.
“I thought it was a death sentence when I got it,â€ť Cohen said.
Now, with the help of an insulin pump, he lives a mostly normal life.
He never thought he’d have difficulty paying for the insulin that keeps him alive.
He, along with millions of others, is up against policy changes and the constantly rising price of insulin.
At first, he says it wasn’t so bad.
â€śI spent about 45 bucks every month to every three months for all the insulin I could possibly use,â€ť Cohen said.
But after he retired, his insurance company changed its policy.
â€śThen they started saying, Well, thatâ€™s not covered anymore until you reach your deductible,â€ť Cohen said.
Meaning, until he reached up to a $5,000 deductible he’d have to pay nearly $600 a vial.
â€śWe switched insurance companies. That was ridiculous,â€ť Cohen said.
He would switch his insurance one more time before landing on one that covers insulin. But even that’s no guarantee.
â€śEvery year they could say we are not going to cover that insulin anymore,â€ť Cohen said.
This exact issue is one Dr. Elizabeth Stephens with Providence is seeing with her patients.
â€śPatients are bringing this up every day and talking about it,â€ť Dr. Stephens said.
Price increases are becoming unmanageable for many.
â€śIncreases have been about 1100 percent since 1996,â€ť Dr. Stephens said.
Dr. Stephens says part of the problem is there are no regulations on pricing.
Also, because of the complexity of making insulin and lack of generic versions, pharmaceutical companies donâ€™t have to compete. That is leading some patients to cut corners.
â€śOften, people are rationing because of the cost issues, and that can impact their health,â€ť Dr. Stephens said. â€śIf people with diabetes donâ€™t get insulin, they will get sick and they will die.â€ť
Insulin rationing has become so common, it’s prompted a call to action by the American Medical Association.
One of its board members calls patients’ struggle to secure basic medicine “shocking and unconscionable.â€ť
But what about the rest of the world? Is this just a U.S. thing?
â€śIn other countries, you can get insulin for dramatically less, so itâ€™s a unique situation in our country,â€ť Dr. Stephens said.
Cohen says if he went to Canada, he would pay only 7 percent of what he pays in the United States, and without insurance.
They offer insulin over the counter.
â€śSomeone needs to stop what I call the gouging of these prices,â€ť Cohen said.
Some states including Minnesota, California and Nevada are battling these increases by regulating insulin prices.
Nationally, The House Affordable Prescription Drug Task Force is taking manufacturers to task. Its goal is to create laws to curb pharmaceutical companies’ runaway prices.
Texas Congressman Lloyd Doggett founded the task force.
“If the pharmaceutical manufacturers will not negotiate in good faith, it authorizes competitive licensing. That is where the Medicare could say, OK, if you won’t sell it at a reasonable price, we will license other generic companies to come in and we’ll get good old American competition,â€ť Doggett said.
And for millions of people it’s a matter of life or death.
â€śThereâ€™s no reason that shouldnâ€™t be available to everybody,â€ť Cohen said.