Le­high Val­ley res­i­dents ra­tioning in­sulin and go­ing with­out as prices sky­rocket, re­port says

The Morning Call - - LOCAL NEWS - By Binghui Huang

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.

THE MORN­ING CALL

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.

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