Dear Large Pharmaceutical Company,
I am concerned for my future patients. Diabetics are struggling to afford their insulin in the wake of your repeated price increases. It is difficult enough dealing with diabetes; when patients are faced with an additional financial burden, the disease can become life-threatening.
As a type 1 diabetic, I, too, rely on affordable insulin. Just as the lifesaving EpiPen has recently skyrocketed in price, so has the cost of insulin. These crucial necessities have become commodities. You are putting up barriers to medications. And all because of greed.
How do I know?
Insulin was discovered in the early 1920s and has been manufactured commercially ever since. It is cheap to make and is keeping hundreds of thousands of people alive. We need it; you control it.
In 1996, a vial of the genetically engineered, fast-acting insulin Humalog cost around $20. That same vial of analog insulin today is five to more than 10 times that amount — with a discount. The price of far cheaper synthetic human insulins has increased 450 percent after inflation over that same time period.
A lawsuit filed in federal court in Massachusetts in January accuses the three makers of insulin of conspiring to raise their prices.
Couple the price hikes with the uncertainty about health insurance, at least for the low- and moderate-income people whose coverage is being raucously debated in Washington, and you are setting the stage for disaster. If insulin becomes unaffordable, diabetics will die at an alarming rate. Perhaps even more concerning: The deaths would have been entirely preventable.
At what point did our society begin valuing money over human life? And while capitalism is a necessary incentive to drive the discovery of new drugs, what good are these treatments if the people they are designed to help cannot access them?
Insulin never fit the research-drives-price paradigm, anyway. After Frederick Banting discovered insulin as a therapy in 1921, the patent was sold for $3 to a Canadian university with the purpose of keeping it accessible for all. "Insulin does not belong to me, it belongs to the world," the Nobel Prize-winning Banting once said.
Today it would appear that this is no longer the case. You, the manufacturer, are profiting off patients who rely on insulin to live. You are making money off my broken pancreas.
Please reconsider these price hikes.
Michael Natter, an illustrator and fourth-year medical student at Thomas Jefferson University's Sidney Kimmel Medical College, will be starting an internal medicine residency at New York University in July and plans to go into endocrinology. Instagram: @mike.natter