Alyssa Milano for CNN: Skyrocketing Price of Insulin is Killing People
Demand that your reps take action to protect diabetic Americans against rising insulin prices →
by Alyssa Milano | 7.18.19
Diabetic Americans today are currently facing rising insulin costs, forcing them to ration insulin, with the possibility of detrimental health effects and even death. Read more in Alyssa's op-ed for CNN. This injustice must stop now. Click above to speak out and urge your reps to take action.
(CNN) - Two years ago, 26-year-old Alec Smith died as a result of rationing his insulin after aging off his mother's insurance. He is not the only one.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, more than 30 million people in the United States -- nearly one in every 10 Americans -- have diabetes. Another estimated 84 million are prediabetic and could require insulin later in life. The rate is even higher among people of color, especially indigenous people, black people and Latinx people.
Those with diabetes take insulin to stay alive. And while very little about the way insulin is produced has changed, the prices have skyrocketed -- some more than tripling over the past 10 years. As a result, as many as one in four people who take insulin skip doses because they cannot afford the medication that is keeping them alive.
In response, advocates across the country are mobilizing and fighting back: we're telling patients' stories, we're amplifying each other's voices and we're demanding affordable insulin now.
In the 2018 midterm elections, the American people sent a clear message to Congress: we voted for members of Congress who defended our communities' access to affordable health care, and we voted out the politicians who refused to defend us. Health care voters came out from every corner of the country. In fact, health care was the top deciding issue in races from coast to coast.
And yet many lawmakers still haven't learned that lesson. In the Trump administration, the pharmaceutical industry's influence is front and center, and includes Secretary of Health and Human Services Alex Azar, the former president of Lilly USA, the largest division of Eli Lilly. That's right. Azar, the man who oversaw the more than tripling of the cost of Eli Lilly's most popular insulin, is now in charge of regulating the company where he was paid nearly $2 million a year.
The increasingly high costs of lifesaving drugs are putting them further and further out of reach from the people who need them the most -- and many of our politicians have made it clear that they will not defend patients from the greed of wealthy pharmaceutical corporations. To make matters worse, only three companies are large-scale manufacturers of insulin in the United States -- dominating the market and drastically raising prices over the past two decades.
If you ask pharmaceutical executives, they'll claim that they need to raise the costs of these drugs to keep up with research and development. In truth, they spend more of their money on marketing.
In 2019, Eli Lilly has already spent more on its marketing than it has on improving the drugs they are selling. In the same period, it has already spent $1.4 million on lobbying. Meanwhile, the current CEO of Eli Lilly made over $15 million last year.
Despite all of this spending on ads, lobbying and executive salaries, people like Smith continue to die because they cannot afford the drug.
This is the terrible and heart-wrenching truth that families across the country grapple with every day. Wealthy companies and executives are making millions putting Americans with diabetes' lives at risk, and most politicians are refusing to act.
There is hope: Prioritizing Americans' access to affordable pharmaceutical drugs is becoming a top issue for Democratic presidential candidates. Senator Kamala Harris has a plan to allow the federal government to set the rates of some drug prices. And Senators Elizabeth Warren, Amy Klobuchar, Kirsten Gillibrand, Bernie Sanders and Cory Booker are among candidates who are advocating for international reference pricing.
As advocates continue to raise their voices and tell their stories, voters rank drug pricing as a policy priority (and, as Navigator Research recently found, they place more trust in Democrats to solve Americans' health care challenges). In the face of rising costs, the American people are not losing hope.
And neither am I.
Smith was 26 when he died. Antavia Lee-Worsham, a young woman in Cincinnati, passed away at age 22. This is in America, where we have the technology and the medicine to keep people alive, but we lack the will to make sure people have access to it.
Earlier this summer, Smith's mother, Nicole Smith-Holt-- now an activist with T1International, an organization that supports and empowers people affected by Type 1 diabetes -- spoke at a press conference outside of Eli Lilly's headquarters in Indiana to demand lower drug costs. She stood with activists and advocates from across the country to demand that drug companies and politicians take bold action and to launch the "Affordable Insulin NOW" campaign.
And just a few weeks ago, T1International and Affordable Insulin NOW joined others and traveled to Canada to purchase cheaper insulin over the border. Today, health care advocates and diabetes activists are rising up.
For too long, politicians and pharmaceutical corporations have valued profits over patients, but no more. We're standing up to the politicians and special interests in Washington and in the statehouses across the country -- and telling them enough is enough.
We cannot afford one more death from insulin rationing.
(Photo Courtesy CNN)
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