Democratic lawmaker to drug industry on insulin prices: 'Your days are numbered'

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In a House Energy and Commerce Committee hearing on insulin prices Wednesday, Democratic Rep. Jan Schakowsky of Illinois and fellow lawmakers blasted manufacturers and drug industry intermediaries for creating a situation in which as much as a quarter of the population with diabetes is rationing and skimping on lifesaving doses of the drug because of cost.

"I don't know how you people sleep at night," Schakowsky told the panel. "I just want you to know your days are numbered." Lawmakers heard from patients with diabetes as well, including 28-year-old Kristen Whitney Daniels, who was kicked off her parents' insurance plan when she reached 26, and started rationing insulin then. "Nobody cared or nobody understood that without this next vial of insulin, I wouldn't live to see another week. […] I can't really explain how isolating and how terrifying it is."

It's also totally unnecessary and completely unjustified. The man who discovered insulin nearly 100 years ago, Frederick Banting, refused to patent the drug under his name. With his co-inventors James Collip and Charles Best, he sold the patent for $1 to the University of Toronto, because they rejected the idea that people who needed this new wonder drug to survive would not be able to afford it. Since then, this drug that has been around since 1923 has become a potent symbol of corporate greed and everything wrong with our healthcare system. Pharmaceutical companies are holding diabetes patients hostage just because they can, because they can get away with continuing to jack up prices and profits.

That's in private and public healthcare systems. Since 2007, a new analysis from Kaiser Family Foundation finds, the cost of insulin in Medicare Part D has risen 840 percent. Yes, there are 3.1 million enrollees with diabetes now in Medicare, as opposed to 1.6 million in 2007, but the huge spike in costs can't be attributed just to that. In addition, "out-of-pocket spending among all Part D enrollees on insulin quadrupled between 2007 and 2016, from $236 million to $968 million, reflecting both an increase in the number of users and price increases for insulin."

The companies are doing this because they aren’t constrained by any regulation. Medicare can’t even negotiate drug prices. But in making this old, critical, life-saving drug a flashpoint in the healthcare debate, the industry might have just created the wedge Democrats need to burn this system down.

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