Eveleth man who’s an activist on the issue says it’s more politics than substance
EVELETH, Minn. -- Insulin at half the price represents “important progress,” according to the company that makes it.
But to an Eveleth man who is crusading against the high price of the drug, the move is a “political deflection.”
“Pretty much every diabetic I know and all the members of my group are in the same boat,” Travis Paulson said last week. “It’s not going to change anything for us. It’s not going to be of any benefit.”
Indianapolis-based Eli Lilly began last week to offer its Insulin Lispro Injection at a 50 percent lower list price than the identical Humalog U-100, the company announced in a news release.
Since it’s the same insulin, pharmacists will be able to substitute Lispro for Humalog, reported Lilly, one of three makers of the drug that’s needed to keep people with Type 1 diabetes alive.
“The people who are most likely to benefit from Insulin Lispro Injection are Medicare Part D beneficiaries, people with high-deductible health plans and the uninsured who use Humalog,” the news release stated.
But even at half the price, it’s still unaffordable, argued Paulson, who recently was accompanied by media representatives in an insulin-buying trip to Canada.
At 50 percent, the price still would be $150 per vial, Paulson said. He can travel to Canada and buy the same thing over the counter for $17 per vial, although the form of insulin he uses costs $27 per vial in Canada.
Lilly’s price reduction “is not going to really change anything,” he said. “Someone that still needs four or five vials a month is going to have to pay $150 times five, which is just still unaffordable.”
Paulson, who is 46 and was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes at age 13, uses five vials per month, he said.
A 50 percent price reduction may convince people who are not in the know that the problem has been addressed, Paulson said. It also might prompt insurers to insist patients purchase the Lilly product, sending more business to that company.
“It’s kind of them politically saying that, you know, we’re doing something about it,” Paulson said.
Lilly, which is 123rd on the Fortune 500 list with $24.5 billion in revenues, had no one available to respond to Paulson’s comments on Friday.
The Minnesota Legislature, meanwhile, was unable to reach the finish line on a bill that would have provided money to pay for insulin for uninsured diabetics in emergency situations.
Contacted on Friday morning just before the Legislature went into special session, state Rep. Jen Schultz, DFL-Duluth, said the bill was dead for this year. She placed the blame on the other side of the aisle.
“The Republicans don’t want us to put it on the pharmaceutical companies,” Schultz said. “They were very adamant about not accepting that language.”
The money — about $10 million per year — would have come from a fee assessed on the companies.
State Rep. Jeremy Munson, R-Lake Crystal, in a separate Friday morning phone interview, affirmed the “adamant” part.
“Taxing the insulin companies and their distributors is not a means for lowering the cost of insulin,” said Munson, who sits on the Health and Human Services Finance Committee. “You can’t lower the cost of something by taxing it.”
Munson also argued that the measure would only help a small subset of people, was only good for three months, and still would require a $25 co-pay.
“If you have used six vials a month, then that’s 150 bucks a month you still have to pay for this three-month supply,” Munson said. “After three months you would have to pay full price for insulin again. So it isn’t really solving someone’s lifelong need for insulin.”
Munson said he generally prefers marketplace solutions but is also interested in working toward importing insulin from other countries.
Paulson, who engaged in a debate with Munson over the issue via Facebook, said the legislation — inspired by a Minnesota man who died in 2017 after rationing his insulin — hadn’t gone as far as he would have liked. But it did serve a purpose, he said.
“The whole point of the Alec Smith program is to provide that one-time emergency refill that someone might need to save their life,” Paulson said.
As the emergency insulin bill was dying in St. Paul, Colorado Gov. Jared Polis last week signed into law a bill to cap the amount diabetics pay for insulin at $100 per month, the Denver Post reported.
It made Colorado the first state to enact a price cap on insulin.
Paulson was well aware of the law.
“I love it. I love it,” he said. “I’ve told people that Colorado’s going to be the next diabetic hotspot. They’ve got some great laws there. You can import insulin from Canada. You don’t even need a prescription to do it. All kinds of things.”
Munson was no more enamored with the price cap than he was with the fee on pharmaceutical companies.
“I’m absolutely against price caps,” he said. “All that does is it drives more money into politics. When government gets to set prices, then the private sector starts putting money into government to buy votes.”