Lehigh Valley residents rationing insulin and going without as prices skyrocket, report says
Mitchell Lenett remembers driving at 10 o’clock at night to bring a bottle of insulin to a friend who had been rationing insulin between herself and her two children several years ago.
Without insurance, his friend was desperate, a situation that other people with diabetes know all too well.
“That’s what people are forced to do in the diabetes online community,” Lenett said. “There’s a lot of supplies and insulin changing hands because people just can’t afford it.”
Through the diabetes support system, Lenett, a Lower Macungie Township resident, has known hundreds of people who have rationed insulin as the cost of the life-saving drug has skyrocketed in the past few decades.
Lenett and his 14-year-old daughter, Carly, have Type 1 diabetes, which requires them to constantly monitor their blood sugar and pump insulin into their bodies throughout the day. Without insurance, the cost of the equipment and medicine can be anywhere from $30,000 to $50,000 a year.
Mitch and Carly Lenett talked about the importance of affordable treatment for chronic disease, such as Type 1 diabetes, at an event held by U.S. Rep. Susan Wild, D-7th, to publicize a report on the high cost of insulin, as well as to highlight threats to the Affordable Care Act. Former President Barack Obama’s signature health law could be overturned in a case that is before the Fifth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. At the event in Bethlehem Friday, representatives from health care advocacy groups and state Rep. Peter Schweyer, DLehigh, warned that public health would suffer without the protections of the ACA.
People with chronic health issues, like Mitch and Carly Lenett, will be hurt if health protections and funding went away, Wild said.
“When Carly turns 18, I no longer have to worry about her being thrown to the wolves regarding health insurance,” he said, referring to a provision in the ACA that allows children to stay on their parents’ health care plan until they turn 26.
People with diabetes need insulin every day to stay alive, but people with no insurance or poor insurance often ration insulin or go without it.
In Wild’s district, which includes Lehigh and Northampton counties and a part of Monroe County, there are 45,000 uninsured residents, who often have to pay the full price of insulin, ration the lifesaving medication or go without, according to a June government report on diabetes and insulin prices in Pennsylvania’s 7th district.
Wild said legislators are working to pass more bills that lower the cost of prescription drugs and make it easier for companies to sell cheaper, generic drugs.
The report found uninsured diabetes patients who purchase Novolog Flexpen, a popular brand of insulin, pay about 21 times more than patients in Australia, 14 times more than patients in the United Kingdom, and 12 times more than those in Canada.
Across the country, more than 30 million people have diabetes. In 2017, diabetes contributed to the death of 277,000 Americans, and was the primary cause of death for 85,000 of those people.
“Over the past two decades, manufacturers have systematically and dramatically raised the prices of their insulin products by more than tenfold — often in lockstep,” the report stated. “These prices dwarf manufacturing costs. One study found manufacturers could charge as little as $7 to $11 per month and still make a profit.”
When Lenett, 55, was a child, a bottle of insulin that would last two to three weeks cost about $15. Today, the out-of-pocket cost for the insulin he uses is about $2,000 for 90 days. He pays about $250 after his insurance company covers its portion. Lenett wants to cut out the middlemen in drug sales, which he believes will lower the price, and also wants to increase the age limit for people to stay on their parents’ plans until they turn 30.
Mitch and Carly Lenett’s blood sugar monitors and insulin pumps cost thousands of dollars without insurance. But not everyone they know in the diabetes community can afford the devices and the medicine regularly.
“We know personally, people have died,” he said.
Mitchell Lenett, 55, a Lower Macungie Township resident, talks about the protections in the Affordable Care Act that help him and his daughter, Carly, 14, afford treatment for Type 1 diabetes at a press event hosted by U.S. Rep. Susan Wild, D-7th District.