Over the last week, in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, both Eli Lilly and Novo Nordisk have announced measures to offer insulin at low cost to patients who have been adversely affected by the outbreak and corresponding economic fallout. These announcements are a significant wins for #insulin4all advocates across the nation, showing that pharma-free patient advocacy is worthwhile and does result in positive change. However, these measures are also a gut-punch for people living with diabetes.
With each vial of insulin being manufactured for as little as four dollars and the current formula being decades old, the enormously profitable insulin manufacturers had the power to make these changes many years ago. So why didn’t they take these measures sooner? People with diabetes have been suffering and dying from lack of affordable insulin for many years. It shouldn’t take a global health crisis to spur real action on this issue. The companies should have made these moves when Eli Lilly Executives met with Nicole Smith-Holt back in 2018, or hearing from many family members who lost their loved ones last year, or meeting with an #insulin4all advocate who urged the essential need for lower list prices.
We have said since day one that no patient should have to jump through hoops or spend extra time trying to access the essential medication they have a right to. Millions of Americans have recently lost their jobs, families have been burdened with additional responsibilities, and patients with diabetes in particular must take extra steps to safeguard themselves against a virus that is made more serious and deadly by their underlying condition. With this exceptional level of stress and worry on everyone’s plate, patients should not have to call a helpline or jump through more hoops to ask for help. Why not lower the list price and make insulin affordable at the counter? Why put a further burden on patients who are already struggling?
There is no denying that the COVID-19 crisis is critical. But the virus has also brought into sharp focus the existing problems with American healthcare. Patients with diabetes were already dealing with a crisis before coronavirus became a pandemic, and that crisis was caused by companies that sought to rake in huge profits off the backs of patients, even as an ever-increasing number of stories of insulin rationing and patient deaths came to light.
The measures announced by Eli Lilly and Novo Nordisk will not help everyone. By Lilly’s own admission, patients with government insurance such as Medicaid, Medicare, Medicare Part D or any State Patient or Pharmaceutical Assistance Program are not eligible for their program. And for the Novo Nordisk program, through which patients would receive 90 days of insulin at no cost, only patients that have lost their jobs due to the coronavirus pandemic qualify. A solution that works for all of us is essential. Patients with diabetes have suffered too long from the profiteering of pharmaceutical companies. The best way for insulin manufacturers to demonstrate their commitment to patient health would be for them to permanently lower their list price, which would make low-cost insulin easier to acquire and apply to every patient who needs it. That is the path to these actions being real contributions to public health, and not just savvy PR moves while the world’s and media’s attention is on the pandemic.
Until affordable insulin is a lasting reality for all, T1International and patient advocates across the country and the world will continue our work for genuinely affordable insulin and supplies for all, without the influence of pharmaceutical company funding swaying our advocacy.