Price gouging for insulin is fatal

In 1923, the patent for insulin was sold for one dollar with the intention of ensuring it remained accessible. It costs less than $10 to manufacture a vial of insulin, yet someone without insurance may be forced to pay over $300 for one. This price gouging puts lives at risk.

Of all the Americans using insulin, 16.5% are forced to ration it, according to the 2021 National Health Interview Survey. Drugwatch states that rationing this medication can contribute to hyperglycemia, kidney failure, blindness and even death.

Laissez-faire policies have no place in healthcare. According to CNN, less than half of all states have price caps for insulin. Those that do only protect “people covered by insurance plans regulated by those states.”

Humulin insulin is one of several types sold by Lilly. Photo courtesy of Wasalius, Wikimedia Commons

In 2022, the Biden administration attempted to cap the out-of-pocket price for insulin at $35, and the measure was weakened in the Senate to only apply to seniors on Medicare.

Another step forward came last Wednesday when Eli Lilly  — the largest of the only three insulin manufacturers in the U.S. — announced it would adopt the $35 cap for those who have private insurance and expand its Insulin Value Program to lower out-of-pocket costs for more uninsured people.

Before anyone rushes to praise this company, it is relevant to review its history. In 2022, Lilly had to pay $61 million in damages after being found guilty in a fraud lawsuit. The company was found guilty of violating the False Claims Act by making false claims about its pricing under Medicaid’s drug rebate program.

In the fourth business quarter of 2022, Lilly reported a net income of $1.89 billion. In the fourth quarter of 2021, it was $1.97 billion. The fact that the company did not adopt a cap sooner proves that its stakeholders value profits over the intentions of its product’s original creators.

This is what happens when healthcare is for-profit. A business is incapable of being motivated by anything but growing its earnings. A person who cannot afford a product is as valuable as a corpse.

It is important to recognize Lilly’s self-imposed cap as a stunt to attract good press. Lilly raised the price of its insulin by 1000% from 2012 to 2022, and this move only cuts it by 70%.

I am glad that insulin will now be more affordable for many people. I hope that Novo Nordisk and Sanofi — the other two companies that share the monopoly on insulin production in the U.S. —  follow suit. However, I will not ignore how this move has been overdue for years. 

Access to affordable medical care should be a right for everyone. Not being able to pay for insurance should not be a death sentence. These two truths cannot become reality until the healthcare sector is restructured as not-for-profit.

Featured photo courtesy of Podrez, Pexels