Truth About The Insulin Ten Year Challenge
A recent viral fad encouraged Facebook users to post a photo from 2009 next to a current photo from 2019. This trend is being called the Ten Year Challenge. Of course, some people began to take it beyond simply pictures of themselves. We can think about other things in our lives that have changed drastically, or not at all, between the last decade. One such comparison was a meme that showed the price of Insulin for $40 in 2009 versus $300 in 2019. According to the Washington Post Magazine, the price of Novolog (pictured in the meme) was $40 when it was introduced in 2001, but rose to $289 by July of 2018. It seems to have continued to rise even since then. This is more than a 700% increase in less than 20 years.
The law of Supply and Demand tells us that when the demand goes up the prices follow in order to ration the supply. The next response is to increase the supply to meet the increased demand, which brings the price back down. But what if the supply cannot be increased? What if there is no new competition? With out new competitors the producers have the ability to raise prices continually until consumers no longer want the product. But those who need insulin do not have a choice. Millions of Americans need this medicine to survive. The demand is constant. So how do we increase supply with competition to lower the cost?
Our first option is to allow drug importation from neighboring countries. Already thousands of people are crossing the borders into Canada and Mexico to purchase prescription drugs. In 2017 Bernie Sanders sponsored a bill to allow prescription drug importation from Canada, which was strongly supported by fellow Senator Dr. Rand Paul. This would have allowed the same products to be sold for much lower prices, but members of Congress in both major parties opposed the bill. Even with additional amendments the bill has been voted down every time.
Patent laws are another reason for the lack of competition. Each time a drug is approved by the Federal Drug Administration it has a patent that lasts for 7 years. It is not until this term is over that other companies can produce generic versions of the medicine. Insulin is a unique case in which there have been several important innovations for the product in recent decades. This has resulted in each new version receiving another 7 year long patent while the older versions are considered obsolete. CBS News reported this:
“The first patent on a long-acting synthetic insulin expired in June 2014. Several companies have announced plans to develop a biosimilar, or highly similar, version of long-acting synthetic insulin. The first such product was recently approved in Europe.”
But none of these generic versions have been approved yet in the United States. Until then we cannot expect prices to come down. We have both Congress and the FDA preventing competition.
With millions of people struggling to pay for their medicine we should be motivated to make a change. Perhaps the next time Congress has a vote to allow drug importation from Canada we will all take the time to tell our Representatives and Senators to support it.