COLUMN: High insulin prices are unacceptable


A package of Humalog KwikPen insulin injectors photographed in a pharmacy in Remington, Va., on February 26, 2019. Insulin's high price can make it unaffordable for those without insurance. Tribune News Service Buy Photos

The United States has the highest GDP in the world, and yet ranks thirteenth on the Inequality-Adjusted Human Development Index (IHDI) developed by the United Nations Development Programme. Essentially, the United States has a huge economy, but the quality of life for people living in the U.S. lags behind other countries.

I’m not going to pretend that all of the U.S.’s problems can be solved in one fell swoop. There is no singular issue which earns the U.S. its low IHDI rank. However, when people in the world’s economic powerhouse are dying because their GoFundMe didn’t raise enough for their insulin, that might be a good indicator what one of the major problems is.

There are many cases of people with diabetes dying because they could not afford their essential medication. Even for those who can scrape by enough to pay for their insulin, one in four diabetics underuse their insulin in order to ration it when times are tough. This is not the type of issue the population of a developed country should be having.

Without insurance, insulin can cost anywhere from $200-1,000 a month. However, even with insurance diabetics can face the obstacle of an unaffordable deductible. Some work is being done to counteract the shocking price of insulin—Colorado just capped insulin copays at $99, for example.

While Colorado’s new law is a wonderful first step, it cannot be the last step. People without insurance are still left reeling by insulin expenses, and not every diabetic lives in Colorado.

The articles popping up in light of Colorado’s law insist we not blame anyone for the cost of insulin. Don’t blame the drug manufacturers, blame the insurance companies. No, wait, don’t blame the insurance companies. Blame the third-party firms. Everyone and no one is to blame.

If you’re looking for a sophisticated answer, that’s as close as you will get. As one article from STAT puts it, “The drug makers, their generic counterparts, doctors, and, increasingly, the Food and Drug Administration itself all share blame for the broken insulin market.”

Insulin is so expensive because the system is the way it is. And the system is set up to increase profits, not help humanity.

None of the key players in the insulin price-hike are solely responsible for the way things are, but they are absolutely to blame for perpetuating the cycle. These companies are not faceless. They are helmed by incredibly wealthy business people who are all partially responsible for this crisis.

Alas, businesses will never clean up their ethics without legal consequences to their actions. Laws such as Colorado’s scratch at the surface of what must be done to rein in these companies. They should not be allowed to profit off of human misery.

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