In acknowledging that the rising cost of diabetes medication is a concern of Northern Virginians, U.S. Rep. Jennifer Wexton (D-VA-10) said she is striving to find solutions.
Wexton held a roundtable at her Sterling office last Wednesday with constituents, health care providers and counselors to discuss the high costs of diabetes medication and how it’s affecting patients. The participants—including a nurse practitioner, an endocrinologist, a pharmacist and counselors from the Virginia Insurance Counseling and Assistance Program—discussed the findings of a newly released report prepared by the House of Representatives Committee on Oversight and Government Reform and commissioned by Wexton that details the rising cost of diabetes drugs for seniors and uninsured residents living in the 10th Congressional District.
Wexton kicked the discussion off by pointing out that brand-name insulin medications are available at a “significantly lower price” in other countries and that insulin manufacturers have raised their prices by more than tenfold during the past two decades.
“It is something that impacts people greatly here in this district,” she said. “This is reaching the crisis stage.”
She noted that the more than 9,000 diabetic Medicare beneficiaries living in Virginia’s 10th Congressional District who have a 25 percent co-insurance requirement pay about $1,080 out of pocket for an annual supply of Novolog Flexpen, which is 2.5 times more expensive than is charged to residents in Canada and nearly five times more than what someone in Australia would pay.
As for the District’s 60,000 uninsured diabetic patients, they pay about $643 per month for the medication, which is 14 times what those in Canada pay and 23 times more than those in Australia pay.
A Leesburg resident whose teenage son has diabetes said that when she left the intensive care unit with her son following a three-night stay when he was diagnosed and stricken with diabetic ketoacidosis five years ago, the doctors left them with more than $800 owed in medication, a portion of the $70,000 his treatment cost their insurance company. She said she now spends hundreds on her son’s medication each month.
“I feel like I work just for my healthcare,” she said. “It’s terrifying to think about what his future is going to be [once he’s off my insurance].”
Rebecca Bates, a family nurse practitioner who runs the Adams Compassionate Healthcare Network in Chantilly—a free clinic for the medically uninsured—noted that the typical American pays on average $9,000 per year for medical coverage, while those with diabetes pay about $17,000 annually.
When Wexton asked how the many refugees and immigrants who Bates treats at her clinic react to America’s high insulin costs, Bates said many experience “sticker shock” and are oftentimes unable to pay for insulin while struggling to put food on the table and find safe and affordable places to live.
Another roundtable participant, the owner of a pharmacy in Purcellville, said that one of his patients died this month after nearly a decade struggling to afford insulin. “It’s very disheartening to know that something like this can happen … in one of the richest counties in America,” he said.
After hearing that, Wexton said the study found that insulin manufacturers would still make a profit if they charged $7-$11 per vial of insulin rather than the hundreds they charge now.
According to findings made by the U.S. Senate Finance Committee, the cost of Novo Nordisk’s Novolog increased from $289 to $540 between 2013 and 2019.
Wexton asked roundtable participants what could be done to rectify the situation, or at least relieve some of the burden for diabetics.
While one participant suggested that insurance companies could remove insulin and diabetes management tools from deductibles to keep costs consistent throughout the year, Mary Lou Wilkins, the coordinator of the Virginia Insurance Counseling and Assistance Program in Loudoun, suggested that Medicare could negotiate the price of insulin with the manufacturer. Wexton said that was a “popular option” that’s heard “over and over again.”
Wexton said she would take the suggestions back to Congress to work out solutions. “Hopefully, we will get to see some progress and results,” she said.