Soaring cost of insulin 'nothing short of premeditated murder'

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FRANKFORT, Ky. (KT) -- The skyrocketing cost of insulin was the topic of a legislative committee meeting on Wednesday.

Gary Dougherty with the American Diabetes Association gave some startling facts and figures on diabetes and insulin in Kentucky, when he testified before the Banking and Insurance Committee.

--567,000 Kentuckians suffer from diabetes, 108,000 have it and don’t even know.

--135,000 new cases are diagnosed in the state each year.

--Over one million more Kentuckians are pre-diabetic, which can often be controlled by diet.

--The cost of insulin tripled between 2002 and 2013.

--Direct costs of diabetes totaled $3.6 billion in 2017, with another billion in lost productivity.

Dougherty’s legislative wish list for 2020 includes, “Give more transparency to costs throughout the insulin supply chain,” meaning from the manufacturer through the pharmacy.

Angie Summers of Louisville said she was impacted by insulin costs when she moved back o Kentucky from New York in 2009.

Despite having insurance through her employer, “The cost of my insulin went from $35 a month to over $400 a month,” she told the panel. “I could have a roof over my head, or I could pay for insulin. I could keep my lights on, or I could pay for my insulin. The stigma that goes along with being a Type 2 diabetic makes even talking about it difficult.”

Summers testified that due to years of going without insulin, she developed neuropathy and other health complications, and had her lower right leg amputated in 2013.

“We are on the verge of an epidemic,” she said. “Our children are being diagnosed with Type 2 Diabetes at an alarmingly young age, and we are not prepared. Insulin has been made nearly impossible for a vast number of people.”

Still, she said she considered herself one of the lucky ones. “I only lost my leg. People are losing their lives in this battle. More than 100 million people are living with diabetes in the United States. You know someone who is diabetic and right now you should be praying they can afford their insulin, because they won’t likely reach out for help, since they don’t want to be a burden. They don’t want to ask for help this month when they know the next month is an issue, too.”

She concluded with a bold statement: “Pricing insulin at such astronomical amounts is nothing short of premeditated murder. The affects are death.”

Angela Laudner of northern Kentucky, who uses three vials of insulin a month, said there is a huge difference in prices from the United States to other countries.

“I drove to a Costco in Winnipeg, Canada and bought vials at $22. I called the Costco Pharmacy in Newport at the same time and was told the price was $300.”

She noted production costs per vial of insulin range from $3 to $6, according to a recent study.

Stewart Perry of Lexington, interim CEO of the Diabetes Patient Advocacy Coalition, said insulin costs are due to one factor, the supply chain, “The U. S. has more people taking a bite of the apple, compared to Canada and Europe. Ultimately the issue is up to the federal government, but anything you can do will help.”

Several people expressed support for legislation proposed by Rep. Danny Bentley, R-Russell, that would cap insulin costs at $100 per month, although some said they’d like to see it go further, including giving the Attorney General power to investigate the prices

Attorney General Andy Beshear launched an investigation earlier this year into pharmacy benefit managers, who control the prescription drug market for several state programs. It is alleged that PBMs have overcharged the state health insurance programs for prescription drugs and discriminated against local pharmacies. He seeks to recover any profits improperly retained by PBMs at the expense of the state and taxpayers.

“Kentuckians should never have to ration necessary medication or go without because they cannot afford it,” said Beshear. “We all want to know if the actions of these companies have resulted in all of us paying too much for prescription drugs, and we’re going to find out.”

Last month, he submitted a request for proposals for outside legal counsel to aid in the investigation.


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