The Journal Gazette
Thursday, November 28, 2019 1:00 am

Life-saving maneuver

Congress can side with patients over profits

Jan D. Evrard

My daughter-in-law Jessica is diabetic and relies on insulin to stay alive. While both she and my son Travis work full time, they struggle to afford the cost of their health insurance and medications. After working hard for years myself, I looked forward to a relaxing retirement. Instead, I send Travis and Jessica money every month so they don't have to choose between paying for health care and putting food on the table for my three grandchildren.

My family isn't alone. The cost of insulin has more than doubled since 2012, and one in four Americans who depend on insulin is rationing the medication because of the cost. They are either taking smaller doses than prescribed or they are periodically skipping doses because they can't afford their full treatment. People have died as a result of high prices that force them to ration doses.

Insulin has been around for a century. It was developed at a public university, and the scientists who invented it sold the patent for $1 because they strongly believed everyone who needed insulin should be able to afford it. If they were alive today, they would be outraged to see big drug corporations such as Eli Lilly doubling and tripling prices to pad their profits at the expense of patients' health.

Insulin is no longer accessible for everyone as its inventors intended, nor is it any longer owned by the taxpayers who funded its creation. Instead, three companies, including Eli Lilly, which is based in Indianapolis, control the world's insulin supply. All three make billions of dollars in profits every year.

I worry that my son and daughter-in-law blame themselves for their situation, even though the failure isn't theirs. The blame lies with our elected officials who have time and time again refused to take action to set fair rules for the prescription drug industry.

Despite promises to lower drug prices, President Donald Trump and our members of Congress continue to allow drug corporations to charge diabetics such as my daughter-in-law two to 10 times the price for insulin that patients in other countries pay. Depending on which medicine you take, it's three times as expensive to be a diabetic in the United States as it is in Pakistan, four times more expensive here than in South Africa, and 10 times more than in Australia.

Many insulin drugs in the United Kingdom are free for the people who need them, as I believe the inventors of insulin intended.

If anyone is morally culpable for the thousands, maybe millions, of people struggling to afford their insulin, it is the people who have the power to lower drug prices and choose to protect Big Pharma's profits instead of our health. President Donald Trump even appointed the man responsible for doubling the price of insulin, former Ely Lilly executive Alex Azar, as secretary of health and human services, the person in charge of our nation's health care system.

For years, there have been calls for Medicare to negotiate prices with drug companies to lower drug prices. Recently, leaders in Congress introduced the Lower Drug Costs Now Act (HR 3), a strong first step toward stopping Big Pharma's price-gouging and making prescription drugs more affordable by finally empowering Medicare to negotiate.

As usual, drug industry lobbyists and big drug companies are spending millions to stop the bill and protect the status quo. The question for lawmakers is whether they will stand by while people like my daughter-in-law struggle to get life-saving medicine. Rep. Jim Banks and every other lawmaker in Congress should side with their constituents by voting in support of HR 3 and Medicare negotiations. If they don't, they will deal with the consequences of siding with the drug companies that are price-gouging patients such as Jessica and hurting millions of other Americans.

This month's Diabetes Awareness Day was successful, but the truth is that we need more than awareness – we need action. If Congress wants to recognize the 30.3 million Americans who are diabetic, it should do more than make speeches or empty promises; it should pass legislation to lower drug prices now.

Jan D. Evrard is a Fort Wayne resident.

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