Sunday 27 June 2021 | 2 a.m
Millions of Americans are diagnosed with a chronic disease that requires regular care and treatment. One of the most common diseases is diabetes, and managing the disease requires a life-saving medicine called insulin.
In Nevada alone, more than 280,000 people with diabetes need insulin to survive and lead healthy lives. But these Nevadans, like thousands of others who deal with other health issues, are stressed, struggling, and having to stop their daily diabetes care because of the price-hitting behavior of big branded pharmaceutical companies.
In 1923, Charles Best and James Collip sold the rights to the insulin patent for just $ 1 (and their colleague, Frederick Banting, even refused to put his name on the patent). They knew they had discovered a drug that would not only improve but save lives, and they didn’t want affordability issues to limit the scope of their vital discovery.
Compare that to what the Big Pharma drugmakers have been doing in recent years when it comes to insulin.
Brand name drug companies cornered the market for this drug, then repeatedly raised the price in unison – despite minimal changes in the underlying compound or improvements in its effectiveness. The big pharmaceutical companies – because they control the market and charge what they want – have been able to repeatedly raise the price of insulin and reap more profits from those who need it to survive.
The practices of the big pharmaceutical companies resulted in an incredible price increase of 700% in just 10 years between 1996 and 2006. In 2016, the average price of insulin reached $ 450 per month, leaving nearly one in four patients. having trouble paying for medication.
According to a recent report from the US Senate Finance Committee, the three big pharmaceutical companies that produce insulin and control 99% of the market – Novo Nordisk, Sanofi and Eli Lilly – have worked “together” to raise prices. of their medications. almost simultaneously, in a practice known as shadow pricing. The practice ensures that patients taking different insulin products end up paying more at around the same time, so that none of them can switch to a cheaper alternative.
These are anti-competitive tactics that line the pockets of big pharmaceutical companies and hurt consumers. And it’s not just diabetics who suffer.
Big Pharma has continued to raise the prices of Americans who depend on prescription drugs, even during a public health crisis. As the COVID-19 pandemic continued to rage, major pharmaceutical companies increased the prices of 822 brand name drugs in their portfolios in a single month to start 2021.
Nevada lawmakers have taken commendable and positive steps to address this crisis and hold Big Pharma accountable. The state was among the first to adopt list price transparency measures requiring branded pharmaceutical companies to disclose and justify price increases above a certain threshold.
But to tackle and fundamentally reverse the prescription drug affordability crisis, action is needed in Congress.
Senator Catherine Cortez Masto, D-Nev., Is a member of the Senate Finance Committee, the body in Congress responsible for many key drug pricing reforms and a place where real leadership can deliver results for patients from Nevada.
In July 2019, Cortez Masto voted in favor of several critical drug pricing solutions. These included caps on out-of-pocket expenses to provide immediate cost relief to patients, the requirement for large pharmaceutical companies to keep price increases below the rate of inflation, and increased accountability of branded pharmaceutical companies in the catastrophic phase of coverage under Medicare Part D. program, to help deter soaring price increases.
However, almost two years later, these solutions still do not have the force of law.
Now her party controls the Senate, and we need her to once again use her voice and position on the finance committee to push leaders to keep commitments to American patients to lower drug prices and to hold the big pharmaceutical companies accountable.
Nevadans, especially those with chronic conditions like diabetes who have to contend with the out of control drug prices from Big Pharma, will be watching. We rely on promises that were offered to be landed as promises kept.
Sarah Gleich is executive director of the Nevada Diabetes Association and the California Diabetes Association.