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American Forum - National | 10/23/2018
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Too Many American Lives Hinge on Drug Prices

By Gail deVore

The angry protests around the 2016 Mylan EpiPen scandal brought into sharp focus the perils for patients when the price of a life-saving drug spikes precipitously, with little or no forewarning, and no ready alternative.

As a Type 1 diabetic who has been dealing with escalating insulin prices my whole life, I was heartened to see the public outcry over our countrys anemic attitude toward setting affordable drug pricing policies. My concern now is that, without additional crises to capture the publics attention, the issue will recede in significance. Rest assured, the realities for patients living under the price-spiral sword have not receded, our lives continue to be threatened daily.

Diabetics, like me, are required to inject daily doses of insulin to sustain our lives. Insulin is a simple hormone that now costs about $350 a bottle. When I was a newly diagnosed child in the 70s, insulin cost $1.49 a bottle. The price rose slowly over the years: $20 in the 90s, $75 in the 2000s. Suddenly, very recently, the price skyrocketed. Almost 50 percent of my cost of insulin has been incurred in the last four years. For some diabetics, the price is so high that they simply cannot afford to buy it. They die. If they choose to ration their insulin to make it last longer, they also will likely diejust more slowly.

In fact, prices have become so steep that within diabetic communities, we distribute extra insulin to those in need at no cost. I also know diabetics who get their insulin in Canada or other countries at incredible savings without a prescription. But these work-arounds cannot save every diabetic who cannot afford insulin. Any death from lack of insulin is unacceptable. It simply isnt right that in the United Statesa country that is supposed to be setting the standards for advanced medical carepatients have to split pills, cross borders or crowdsource vital medication. In no country should a life-saving and life-sustaining medication cost more than your mortgage.

I have been fortunate to always have insurance so I can afford my insulin and other medical necessities, however even having insurance doesnt make it affordable for everyone. High deductible plans force many of us to still pay a lot for our drugs.

This situation is not limited to diabetics. It might be your neighbor who has cancer, or your grandparent with heart disease, or your childs classmate with asthma. It might be you. Seventy percent of all Americans take prescription drugs for a chronic condition, according to the Mayo Clinic, and more than half take two. One-fifth of Americans take five prescription drugs. Its highly likely far more Americans would be among that group if they could afford it. We all have skin in this game.

According to a recent survey by the West Health Institute and NORC at the University of Chicago, 75 percent of Americans consider the prices of prescription drugs to be unreasonable, and despite promises from the president and members of Congress to rein in prices, very few approve of eithers handling of the issue.

This isnt surprising given the survey found no public policy issue is more important to Americans than the high cost of healthcare and the rising price of prescription drugsmore so than jobs and the economy, immigration, national security and the environment.

We also know that only large-scale policy changesnot informal networks and trips to Canadacan fix this. Fully 88 percent of Americans say medication costs should be a priority for congressional candidates this year. And eight in 10 support proposals to allow Medicare to negotiate directly with drug manufacturers and allow generics to compete with brand-name medications.

Imagine the impact if we all spoke up about itand not just when a particularly egregious story like the EpiPen debacle captures the publics attention. I encourage all Americans to reach out to their representatives, and candidates running for office, and tell them to make this issue a priority. Our lives are in the balance and it is time to take action.

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