For the 30 million Americans with diabetes who rely on insulin, rapidly rising out-of-pocket prescription costs threaten their ability to afford this lifesaving medicine.
This is why I recently introduced legislation to cap the price of insulin at $100 per 30-day supply, along with my colleagues Reps. Jimmy Anderson and Katrina Shankland and Sen. Dave Hansen.
The inventor of insulin, Frederick Banting, sold the patent for $1 in the 1920s because he wanted everyone who needed the drug to be able to afford it. However, the patent was sold again to two of the biggest pharmaceutical companies, and the price of insulin has continued to surge. Due to a lax regulatory environment around drug pricing, the costs of insulin have tripled during the past decade.
The price of medication is determined in negotiations between drug manufacturers and insurance companies. In countries where the manufacturer negotiates the price with the government, like in Canada, the cost of a vial of insulin (a week of supply) is $30. In the United States, a vial costs about $340 at retail pricing. Because those with diabetes often require several vials per month to manage their condition, these artificially elevated prices can have a substantial impact.
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Unlike many other medications, there is no true generic version of insulin available, which would otherwise provide a low-cost alternative. Pharmaceutical companies have made incremental improvements to insulin throughout the years, allowing them to keep their formulations under patent. As a result, these companies are able to set prices at their whim. Recently, the manufacturers of EpiPens and opioid antidotes have been criticized for similar soaring prices.
The consequences of this pharmaceutical price gouging can be catastrophic. A quarter of people with diabetes report that they ration or skip lifesaving doses of insulin, with potentially damaging or fatal consequences. Skipping insulin or not taking the right amount can lead to kidney failure, blindness or even death.
In other cases, diabetics are getting behind on rent or being forced to choose between paying for insulin and groceries. It is unacceptable for anyone to be put in that position while pharmaceutical companies benefit at their expense.
In Wisconsin, 8% of adults have diabetes, and 28% of adults have undiagnosed diabetes. The direct and indirect costs of diabetes in Wisconsin, including medical care and lost productivity, total an estimated $3.9 billion annually. In La Crosse County alone, about 500 adults are newly diagnosed with diabetes each year.
I hope that this out-of-pocket cap will provide financial relief for diabetes patients across Wisconsin. I’m proud to co-author this bill to ensure that no Wisconsinite will have to skip or ration the insulin they need to stay alive.