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Our View: Rising insulin costs add to diabetics’ problems

Diabetes rates are increasing at an alarming rate in the U.S., and the Kentucky legislature is taking a stab at rising medication costs for diabetics.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention National Diabetes Statistics Report for 2017, there are an estimated 30.3 million people in the U.S. with diabetes. That accounts for about 10 percent of the population.

It is a disease that impacts people of all backgrounds and ages.

According to the Diabetes Research Institute Foundation, “diabetes is caused by the body’s inability to create or effectively use its own insulin,” produced by cells in the pancreas. Insulin is critical in helping regular blood sugar levels and providing energy to the body’s cells and tissues.

The disease affects many parts of the body and can cause serious complications such as heart disease, stroke, blindness, kidney failure and lower-limb amputation. Without proper treatment, diabetes can be fatal. It was the seventh leading cause of the death in the U.S. in 2015, with nearly 80,000 deaths in which diabetes was listed as the underlying cause.

There is no cure for diabetes, but it can be treated with lifestyle changes and medications, such as injectable insulin.

However, treating the disease can be costly.

The American Diabetes Association estimates that health care costs for those with diabetes are more than two times greater than for those without diabetes. About $1 of every $7 in U.S. health care is spent treating diabetes and its complications.

Insulin can be incredibly expensive for diabetic patients, with some vials costing upward of $200 and patients needing multiple vials each month.

“Back in 1996, when Eli Lilly’s Humalog first came out, the price for a one-month supply of insulin was $21,” Danielle K. Roberts reported for AJMC. “As of 2001, that exact vial’s price increased by $14 to $35. In 2019, that vial was said to be around $275. That is a 1200 percent increase on the original price.

Because of the rising cost of the drug, many people do without it or ration it to make it last longer, which can have detrimental effects on their health and can even lead to death.

In a proposed Kentucky law, cost for a month’s supply of insulin would be regulated.

House Bill 12, sponsored by Reps. Danny Bentley, R-Russell, and Steve Sheldon, R-Bowling Green, would require health insurance plans to cap the patient cost for a 30-day supply of a prescription insulin drug to $100 “regardless of the amount or type of insulin needed to fill the covered person’s prescription,” per the bill.

AARP Kentucky State President Charlotte Whittaker commented on the rising cost of insulin, and put it simply: “Prescription drugs don’t work if you can’t afford them.”

If we don’t do something about the high cost of insulin, more people will continue to suffer unnecessarily and can lose their fight with diabetes.

While there are many points of view about what role the government should play in regulating health care and medical costs, this is an arena where it seems necessary for legislation to be put in place. Too many people struggle to afford this life-saving medicine, and the pharmaceutical industry has yet to offer reasonable explanations for the ever-increasing price of insulin.

The bill now goes to the full House for consideration, and we’d like to see it passed this session for Kentuckians with diabetes can finally afford this life-saving medication.

Editorials represent the opinion of the newspaper’s editorial board. The board comprises publisher Michael Caldwell and Bluegrass Newsmedia editors Whitney Leggett and Ben Kleppinger. To inquire about a meeting with the board, contact Caldwell at 759-0095.