WHEATON – The rising cost of diabetes drugs has put a strain on patients, their families and the federal government as it provides diabetes medications to more than 43 million Medicare beneficiaries, according to a U.S. House Oversight and Reform Committee.
Speaking to a crowd of nearly 50 people gathered at the DuPage County Health Department on June 14, U.S. Rep. Sean Casten, D-Downers Grove, said legislation was pending to address drug companies’ unfair price hikes.
The Forcing Limits on Abusive and Tumultuous – or FLAT – Drug Prices Act of 2019 is intended to prevent large prices spikes by imposing penalties on pharmaceutical corporations. It would help lower drug costs by limiting monopoly periods to encourage competition from generics.
Casten talked about the legislation at a panel discussion he hosted, called “Spiking Prices and Spiking Blood Sugar: A Panel Discussion on the Rising Costs for Diabetics and their Families.”
The issue is that 30 million Americans have diabetes and it is now the seventh-leading cause of death, panelist Courtney Hedderman of AARP said. Members consistently complain about the high cost of prescription drugs in general and diabetes medication in particular, she said.
“It is a chronic condition that is devastating in so many ways,” Hedderman said.
A first step is to have a Secretary of Health and Human Services who can negotiate drug prices on behalf of Medicare patients, especially for a medication that has been around for 100 years, Hedderman said.
To her point, the oversight committee’s report noted that insulin drugs cost five times in the U.S. what they cost in Australia. For those who are uninsured, the cost for a Novolog Flexpen is 21 times more than it costs in Australia.
Insulin and oral medications regulate blood sugar levels so people with diabetes can manage their condition and reduce the risk of complications.
Panelist Emilija Irwin, a 16-year-old Downers Grove High School senior, said she was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes nine years ago and her younger sister was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes two years ago.
“When you have insulin prices that are sky-high, it’s also hard to cover the cost of home supplies, test strips,” Irwin said. “All of these other supplies … keep diabetes manageable.”
At one point, a vial of insulin had gone bad and insurance would not cover the cost of another vial to replace it, so Irwin said she ate low-carb meals to cut her need for insulin until insurance would cover the next vial.
“Even with insurance, it can cost $1,400 just for insulin per month,” Irwin said.
The oversight report cited a Congressional study that found manufactures could charge as little as $7 to $11 per month for insulin and still make a profit.
Panelist Vince Keenan, executive vice president of the Illinois Academy of Family Physicians, said he had a patient whose insulin copay became too much for him to afford.
“He was visiting family in Texas and went to Mexico to get the same vial for $6,” Keenan said.
Audience member Jennifer Ladisch-Douglas of Elmhurst said even as a lawyer, it is difficult for her to come up with $2,500 at the beginning of every year for a 90-day supply of insulin.
“This has to stop,” Ladisch-Douglas said of the supply chain for prescription drugs that drives up the price. “We need your help and the help of the government at the state and federal level.”
Audience member Bruce White of Lisle said when he was first diagnosed and went to pick up his testing supplies at the pharmacy, he was told his insurance did not cover that brand.
“To me, that is ludicrous,” White said.