The rising cost of insulin is killing people—and not in a figurative sense. On September 29, 2018, protestors gathered with signs and bullhorns and stood in front of Eli Lilly to demand change. People flew in from around the country. They’d had enough.
It’s not the first time people have pointed fingers at Eli Lilly. The major pharmaceutical company has taken severe criticism over rising insulin prices, which have tripled since 2002. It’s not uncommon for people with type 1 diabetes to have to pay around $1,300 a month for their insulin. It’s not a choice. Without insulin, someone with type 1 will die.
The burden of paying for insulin has forced people into homelessness, kept people from buying food, and encouraged “insulin rationing.” Rationing involves people with diabetes trying to use the least amount of insulin possible to stay alive so that they can stretch their supply. Stories of people dying from rationing are disturbingly common. Even if people manage to ration without dying, the short- and long-term health complications of high blood sugar are severe.
Protestors called for Eli Lilly to put people above profits and talked about the need for legislative change. One woman held a sign that explained her annual diabetes spending. She spends over $25,000 a year for basic supplies. “The price keeps going up, and it won’t come down until legislative change starts to happen,” she told KCTV 5 News.
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Eli Lilly, along with Novo Nordisk and Sanofi, is one of three pharmaceutical companies that control nearly all the insulin in the United States. While some drugs have generic options available, insulin does not, despite the fact that the original patent was sold for about $3 in 1921. Rising prices are hurting families from all walks of life.
In an effort to curb rising prices, a new California law is calling for greater transparency from drug companies in hopes of relieving the burden on consumers. But Eli Lilly has refused to comply until a lawsuit claiming the new law violates the company’s first amendment rights is settled.
Nicole Smith-Holt lost her son Alec to diabetes rationing. He lost coverage under his parents’ insurance when he turned 26 on June 1. He tried to make his insulin last, but he died of ketoacidosis on June 27, just three days before his next paycheck.
“We need more people to speak up and share their stories. We don’t want our government or Eli Lilly to think these are isolated incidents they are not. People are dying,” Nicole said.
Eli Lilly issued a statement in response to the protest:
“The out-of-pocket costs that people pay for insulin have gone up for several reasons including insurance designs—such as high deductible plans that require people to pay thousands of dollars before coverage is triggered. We opened the Lilly Diabetes Solution Center to help people who pay the highest prices find customized solutions. The solution center is staffed with health care professionals, such as nurses and pharmacists, who will help people find the best solutions based upon their personal circumstances.”
The protesters want radical change, not “customized solutions.” Until there is change, people with diabetes will continue to have to choose between what keeps them alive and what they can afford. It’s a dangerous place to be.