In a speech announcing her 2020 candidacy for president, Senator Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), said she would take the necessary action to bring down the high cost of prescription drugs, including insulin.
Senator Klobuchar told the story of Minnesotan Alec Raeshawn Smith, who lived with diabetes and died tragically because he couldn’t afford the insulin he needed to stay alive. Smith’s mother, Nicole Smith-Holt, who has been sharing her son’s story with the media, was present at the speech. Senator Klobuchar said, “Last week my guest to the State of the Union, who is here again with me today, was Nicole Smith-Holt. Nicole’s son Alec, a 26-year-old restaurant manager from the southern suburbs, aged off his parents’ health insurance. Three days short of his payday, Alec, a diabetic, wasn’t able to afford his insulin. He tried rationing it to save money. Tragically it didn’t work. He died. This disgrace should never have happened in the United States of America. Not with a simple drug that’s been around for nearly a century. The obstacle to change? The big pharma companies think they own Washington. Well they don’t own me. And they don’t own Nicole.” [See Twin Cities Pioneer Press for the full text of the speech.]
Insulin prices have been increasingly rising out of control and proportion; in 20 years the costs have climbed 1123%, while U.S. inflation stayed around 56%. People with insulin dependent diabetes in most income brackets are deeply struggling to pay for this life-sustaining medication, which can range from hundreds to thousands of dollars a month.
Why is insulin so expensive in America? The short answer is… we don’t know.
The pharmaceutical manufacturers have pointed their fingers at Pharmacy Benefits Managers (PBMs) and at health insurance companies while claiming that the price the manufacturers charge has little to do with what patients pay at the pharmacy window. Another factor is that many insurance plans and PBMs receive rebates that are based on the reimbursement price and the price along the distribution route. However, the price that the manufacturers charge is the starting point.