Craig Gima
Hawai‘i Herald Columnist

Humalog, an insulin product that diabetics like Emile Sloboda need to live, cost $21 a vial when it was first introduced in 1996.

But, as more people used Humalog and needed it to live, instead of going down, the price skyrocketed way above inflation, to about $275 per vial today. Most people use about two vials a month.

Because of the high price, Sloboda said he has had to ration his insulin by skipping meals.

“Rationing insulin means that I can’t eat unless I have insulin to balance out the glucose,” Sloboda explained.

A recent Yale University study found that one in four diabetics ration their insulin, sometimes skipping doses of the drug, which is a dangerous practice.

That’s just wrong. People should not have to choose between food and the medicine they need to live.

It’s not just diabetics who are suffering from pharmaceutical company greed. In Hawai‘i, the price of the cancer drug Revlimid jumped from $147,413 a year to $247,496 a year between 2012 and 2017. The price of the brand-name drug Aggrenox, which treats heart disease, increased from $3,030 a year to $5,930 annually.

Medicines don’t work if people cannot afford to take them.

That’s why AARP is taking on the drug companies and the prescription drug lobby, commonly known as “Big Pharma.” High drug prices disproportionately affect older Americans, who generally take four or more prescription drugs regularly.

In Congress, legislation aimed at lowering prescription drug prices is moving in the House of Representatives. If passed, it would also cap costs for Medicare beneficiaries and save taxpayers money by allowing Medicare to negotiate directly with drug companies for bulk purchasing discounts.

The Lower Drug Costs Now Act passed out of key committees last month and was expected to come before the full House this month. Hawai‘i Congressman Ed Case was a co-sponsor of the bill — we thank him for his leadership on this vital legislation.

Case told AARP last month that he believes allowing Medicare, “the largest drug buyer in the world,” to negotiate lower prices for the drugs taxpayers buy would make a “huge difference.”

The Congressional Budget Office estimates that the provisions in the bill allowing Medicare to negotiate for lower drug prices would save taxpayers $345 billion.

There is bipartisan support in the Senate for the Prescription Drug Pricing Reduction Act. It passed out of its committees and it is hoped that it, too, will have a floor vote.

The Senate version would also cap out-of-pocket costs for Medicare beneficiaries and require drug companies to pay a rebate to Medicare if they raise prices more than the rate of inflation. The Senate bill does not call for Medicare to negotiate directly with drug companies, however.

There is clearly a desire from most in Congress and even in the White House to pass legislation to reduce drug costs for consumers and taxpayers. But desire alone will not pass laws.

We need political courage.

Call Congress and tell them to stand up to Big Pharma and pass meaningful legislation.

Craig Gima is communications director at AARP Hawai‘i. He is an award-winning multimedia communicator with more than 30 years of experience in telling stories online, in print and on television. A Honolulu native, Gima spent nearly 19 years at the Honolulu Star-Advertiser in a variety of roles before joining AARP in 2016.


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