Drug prices: It’s time for change

The angry protests around the 2016 Mylan EpiPen scandal brought into focus the perils for patients when the price of a life-saving drug spikes precipitously.

As a Type 1 diabetic who has been dealing with escalating insulin prices my whole life, I was heartened to see the outcry over our country’s anemic attitude toward setting affordable drug pricing policies.

My concern now is that, without additional crises to capture the public’s attention, the issue will recede in significance.

The realities for patients living under the price-spiral sword have not receded.

Diabetics are required to inject daily doses of insulin to sustain our lives.

When I was a newly diagnosed child in the ’70s, insulin cost $1.49 a bottle. The price rose slowly over the years: $20 in the ’90s, $75 in the 2000s. Suddenly, very recently, the price skyrocketed to $350.

For some diabetics, the price is so high that they simply cannot afford to buy it. They die.

If they choose to ration their insulin to make it last longer, they also will likely die — just more slowly.

I know diabetics who get their insulin in Canada or other countries at incredible savings without a prescription.

But these work-arounds cannot save every diabetic who cannot afford insulin.

It isn’t right that, in the United States — a country that is supposed to be setting the standards for advanced medical care — patients have to split pills, cross borders or crowdsource vital medication.

I have been fortunate to always have insurance so I can afford my insulin and other medical necessities, however, even having insurance doesn’t make it affordable for all.

High deductible plans force many of us to still pay a lot for our drugs.

This situation is not limited to diabetics. It might be your neighbor who has cancer or your grandparent with heart disease or your child’s classmate with asthma.

Seventy percent of all Americans take prescription drugs for a chronic condition, according to the Mayo Clinic, and more than half take two. One-fifth of Americans take five prescription drugs.

According to a recent survey by the West Health Institute and NORC at the University of Chicago, 75 percent of Americans consider the prices of prescription drugs to be unreasonable, and despite promises from politicians to rein in prices, very few approve of their handling of the issue.

This isn’t surprising, given that the survey found no public policy issue is more important to Americans than the high cost of health care and the rising price of prescription drugs.

Fully 88 percent of Americans say medication costs should be a priority for Congress.

And eight in 10 support proposals to allow Medicare to negotiate directly with drug manufacturers and allow generics to compete with brand-name medications.

Imagine the impact if we all spoke up about it. I encourage all Americans to reach out to their representatives and tell them to make this issue a priority. Our lives are in the balance, and it is time to take action.

Gail deVore of Denver has had Type 1 diabetes for over 46 years.