Insulin syringe By someestimates, the cost of insulin has tripled in the last ten years,even though the medication has stayed the same.

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Public outrage over high insulin prices, fueled by stories ofdiabetes patients dying because they couldn't afford theirmedication, is driving a new flurry of measures that aim to controlor reduce prices for the drug.

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It has been almost exactly two years since Jesse Lutgen died onFeb. 7, 2018, after losing his health insurance and not being ableto afford insulin for his Type 1 diabetes. Lutgen's death is one ofmore than ten similar cases in the last three years—Americans whodied from a health condition that is easily treatable withmedications that used to be more affordable.

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Related: Class-action suit over insulin prices gets greenlight

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By some estimates, the cost of insulin has tripled in the lastten years, even though the medication has stayed the same. Anonline study for T1international, a group thatadvocates for diabetes patients, found that 26 percent of Americanswith diabetes in the survey said they had rationed their medicationin the past year—the top rate among the high-income countriessurveyed for the study.

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"The price is so high that people are doing desperate things toget by, like using expired insulin, relying on crowdfunding to paytheir bills, or taking less insulin than they need in an effort toration their supplies," reported Right Care Alliance, a patients' rights group."Rationing is extremely dangerous and can lead to a deadlycondition known as diabetic ketoacidosis."

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Politicians scramble to address insulin prices

The high price of insulin has become an issue for politicians onboth sides of the aisle, but the Democratic presidential candidates in the Iowacaucuses have made high insulin prices one of their top talkingpoints.

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Janelle Lutgen, Jesse's mother and an Iowa native, has been on apersonal campaign to deliver an empty insulin vial to everypresidential candidate, along with a plea to address the issue.

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The candidates have been listening. Bernie Sanders has organizeddrug-purchasing trips to Canada to highlight drug cost issues.Elizabeth Warren has pushed legislation to allow cheapermanufacturing of insulin and generic drugs. Joe Biden, AmyKlobuchar, Andrew Yang—all of the presidential candidates haveweighed in on an issue that is easy to understand and underscoresthe problems of limited access to life-saving drugs—due to what isperceived as corporate greed.

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"When you run for president, you can't go a couple of dayswithout talking to somebody who's describing someone they lovewho's dependent on insulin or some medication," candidate PeteButtigieg recently told a reporter from STAT, a website that coverslife sciences.

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States have begun legislating solutions

As with many issues, the gridlock in Washington, D.C. has boggeddown possible legislative solutions—leaving states to take the leadon the issue. Colorado and Illinois have both passed laws cappinginsulin copays for diabetics, and six other states are consideringsimilar measures, according to Bloomberg Law.

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However, the complexity of health care regulation means thatthere are limits to how many people are actually covered by thesestate laws. "States are powerless to help those covered by Medicareand other federal health-care programs; self-funded health plansregulated by the Employee Retirement Income Security Act that aregenerally offered by employers. Medicaid, a joint federal-stateprogram, is also outside of state regulators' jurisdiction," saidthe Bloomberg Law story, written by Christopher Brown.

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Industry players also take steps to reduce costs

The continued bad publicity has led players in thepharmaceutical industry to announce their own efforts in addressingthe issue. On January 20, pharmacy benefits manager (PBM) CVSCaremark unveiled RxZERO, a program that would enableemployer-based health plans to offer all diabetes medicines with azero-dollar copay.

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The PBM said that diabetes medications, including insulin, canbe offered with no copay by adjusting formularies to favor genericforms of drugs and by better diabetes-management programs thatimprove adherence to treatment guidelines. CVS estimates that whena diabetes patient goes from non-adherent status to adherent,employer health care costs drop by $2,202 per year. The PBMstresses that this approach addresses a range of diabetes costs,and helps patients better manage their disease.

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"Traditionally, the focus of affordability for diabetesmedications has been on insulin, which is the cornerstone oftherapy for the five percent of people with diabetes who are livingwith type 1 diabetes," said Troyen A. Brennen, MD, Chief MedicalOfficer, CVS Health. "RxZERO provides affordable optionsfor the entire range of diabetes medications, improvingaffordability for the 95 percent of people with diabetes who areliving with type 2 diabetes."

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Last April, PBM Express Scripts offered its own solution foremployer-based plans, with a $25 monthly cap on insulin drugs. Drugmanufacturers worked out the deal with Express Scripts by absorbing the extra costs.Groups such as T1International expressed skepticism about theExpress Scripts plan, saying it didn't cover enough people.

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