Guest Editorial: California insulin plan promises to save money, lives
This editorial is from the Sacramento Bee:
The symptoms of insulin withdrawal are nauseating: Shaking, sweating, dizziness, a rapid heartbeat. And yet thousands of Californians endure these symptoms in order to extend their dwindling insulin supplies. That’s because a supply of insulin can cost some people nearly $300 — and that’s something the state of California just promised to fix.
The state and its nonprofit partner, Civica, announced they have entered into a $50 million, 10-year contract to produce affordable insulin at just $30 per dose — under the name CalRx — and bring down the cost of insulin substantially, and enough to make a real difference for consumers. The state is still searching for a California-based manufacturing facility to produce the medication, but has vowed to “target prescription drugs where the pharmaceutical market has failed to lower drug costs, even when a generic or biosimilar medication is available.”
“People should not be forced to go into debt to get life saving prescriptions,” Gov. Gavin Newsom said at his State of the State tour stop in Los Angeles. “Through CalRx, Californians will have access to some of the most inexpensive insulin available, helping them save thousands each year.”
More than 3.2 million people in California live with diabetes and many of them use insulin to survive. Furthermore, an additional 10.3 million Californians are prediabetic — more than one-third of the state’s population — meaning they are likely to require regular insulin in the near future.
The pandemic, too, has greatly increased the risk of fatality for diabetic Americans. The American Diabetes Association found that after just 18 months, diabetic patients were twice as likely to die from complications of COVID than non-diabetic patients.
Only three manufacturers currently produce insulin: Eli Lilly, Novo Nordisk and Sanofi, which has led to low competition and rising prices as the number of Americans who need insulin has increased in recent years. Recently, Eli Lilly and Novo Nordisk announced they would cap their consumers’ out of pocket expenses at $35, after increased pressure from the Biden Administration when prices spiked to as much as $300.
A study released last month by the Kaiser Family Foundation found that the average out-of-pocket cost per insulin prescription was $54 in 2020 — an increase of nearly 40% since 2007. In 22 other states, the copay for a 30-day supply has already been capped between $25 and $100.
That’s not to say California’s ambitious program isn’t fraught with potential pitfalls. There will be a long time between this announcement and the actual rollout of the CalRx brand, perhaps at least a year; and even Newsom acknowledged in his announcement that “we don’t know yet” if the system will be perfect.
But it’s heartening to see the state uphold its promise to try.
By wresting control of these life saving medications away from Eli Lilly and the like — and following through on the state’s refusal to partner with these current producers — CalRx is a promise of major financial assistance to millions of Californians, many of whom suffer from ongoing medical costs billed at twice the rate of a non-diabetic patient.
And insulin is not the only medicine the Newsom administration is looking at: The governor announced CalRx seeks to eventually manufacture Naloxone, too — the lifesaving inhalant used in opioid overdoses. (A single naloxone rescue inhalant kit currently ranges in cost from $20-$60, and not uncommonly, two kits are needed at one time.)
Newsom’s announcement could mark a historic moment for Californians and hopefully for diabetics nationwide — a moment when the people wrested control of their lives and their wallets back from the pharmaceutical companies.
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