Tackling rising insulin prices have become a personal issue for Rep. Tom Reed
WASHINGTON, D.C. - U.S. Rep. Tom Reed (R-N.Y.) has watched the soaring price of insulin affect his own family. When his son was four-years-old, he was diagnosed with Type-1 diabetes, meaning he needs insulin to survive. His son is now 19. Since 2001, the price of insulin has spiked 600 percent, now costing Type-1 diabetics on average more than $5,700 per year.
“The whole system of drug pricing in the legislative debate is represented by insulin,” said Reed, the Republican co-chair of the Congressional Diabetes Caucus. With more than 300 members, it’s the largest caucus in Congress.
That debate has been front and center in the Congressional Diabetes Caucus and other committees since the 116th Congress convened in January. Lawmakers have been pressing drug companies this session for answers on the cost of insulin, and why a generic version is not on the market.
“What you find out when you pull the curtain back is there is no cost-containment strategy, there are no cost-containment pressures to keep these prices going down, and there is no reward to lower prices,” Reed explained.
“Some families pay upwards of $1,800 a month just for their insulin,” according to LaShawn McIver, Senior Vice President of Government Affairs & Advocacy for the American Diabetes Association. “So, this is a significant problem for people with diabetes who rely in insulin to live.”
That’s forcing the 30 million Americans living with diabetes – including 7.4 million who cannot live without insulin – to take some dangerous health risks. A 2018 survey from the American Diabetes Association found nearly one-in-four Americans takes less than the prescribed dose of insulin because of those surging prices; another one-in-four skips their medication during the week.
“We know that it happens, and there are deadly consequences to that in the short and long term,” McIver said.
Meanwhile, Reed is pushing Congress to reauthorize and increase funding for the decades-old Special Diabetes Program, which studies Type-1 diabetes. That’s set to expire at the end of September.
There are several ways you can save money on your insulin, according to McIver. First, she said considering asking your doctor for the cheapest brand on the market. In March, Eli Lilly, one of the three manufacturers of insulin, offered what’s known as an “authorized generic” of its drug Humalog. It’s essentially the same drug with a different name, McIver said, and costs about half as much as its brand-name counterpart.
McIver also points diabetics and caregivers to an ADA-related website, insulinhelp.org, which offers tips and advice for finding reduced-cost insulin and long-term financial and medical solutions.