Imagine this: you’re a Type One Diabetic about to be kicked off of your parents’ insurance at 26 years old. You’re a restaurant manager and are struggling to find your own coverage. The insurance that is available to you has a $7600 deductible and a monthly premium of $440. You decide this is not sustainable and try to buy the drug that literally saves your life in cash every month. Unfortunately, the price of insulin is too much, so you decide to ration it in order to save some up for insurance. Sadly, you are found dead in your apartment shortly after. This is the story of Alec Smith.
As a Type One Diabetic myself, this is one of my biggest fears. Not being able to afford my insulin one day due to the outrageous costs of a drug that I need to survive. I don’t want to have to ration this drug and risk not waking up one morning. My parents don’t deserve to lose me due to this injustice that so many Americans are facing. I know that my community as a whole shares this common fear. So, why is Big Pharma taking advantage of such a niche community that is in no position to bargain?
Let’s talk about some facts. Insulin costs about $6 to manufacture, and that’s on the higher end. One vial of Humalog, a common type of insulin, costs over $300 per vial. Of course there are going to be other costs when it comes to managing diabetes, from doctors appointments to other supplies that makes this never ending cycle a little easier, but for the sake of this article, I am going to stick to the prices of insulin only. One vial of insulin contains about 1,000 units, which would personally last me a couple of weeks or a little under a month. Compare this to $21 per vial in 1999. Insulin prices in America are also extremely high compared to those of similar nations. Take Canada for instance, where a vial of the same insulin costs only $50.
You may be asking yourself, Why? There are a few explanations to this question that I seem to be constantly asking myself. First of all, there are only three companies that control the majority of the world’s insulin production. Those companies are Eli Lilly, Novo Nordisk, and Sanofi. Because only three companies control such a large market, there basically exists a monopoly. For those of you who aren’t familiar with the business term, a monopoly is where one organization has virtually complete control over the market. They can set the prices to whatever they want because there is no other option available to consumers.
Another issue with why insulin prices are so high is due to patents. Patents are what gives an organization control over some invention for a period of time. In the US, that time frame is about 20 years. All of the current and previous recipes for insulin are now off patent. So, why aren’t more companies trying to make and patent insulin? Big Pharma is using loopholes in the US patent system to make their patents last longer, which is also termed as evergreening. This keeps competitors from making their own and keeps prices high for decades at a time. Sanofi has filed 74 patent applications for a type of insulin, Lantus, which means they have created a monopoly that has no other competition for the last 40 or so years.
There are so many other reasons as to why insulin prices are so high, but those are the big two in my opinion. Big Pharma has been taking advantage of people in terrible situations for too long and something needs to be done about it. Please don’t stay silent and see how you can help. I know not many of you can relate to this topic, but I feel like that is why I should write about it because not many of you are even aware that this is an issue so many people are facing. One way you can help is by signing petitions and making sure to keep updated on the issue. Even if all you do is research, you might just bring enough awareness to the topic that could save someone’s life one day. Here is a petition I encourage you to sign