Commentary

Arizonans like me are fed up with high drug prices, and it’s time to fix that

August 24, 2021 9:33 am

Photo via iStock / Getty Images Plus

Imagine waking up to the prospect of making a heartbreaking choice: Should I pay my rent, or should I risk death by forgoing my medication? Should I buy groceries, or my insulin and other necessary supplies related to diabetes?

Now, imagine having to make this choice relentlessly, without relief, every day. 

Prescription drug prices have skyrocketed across the United States over the last few years, and data already shows that Americans like me pay three times as much for life saving medications than people in other countries like Germany, France, and Japan.

In 2012, at the age of 21, I was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes. Due to unforeseen circumstances, I found myself unable to afford my own insurance policy, which meant I could no longer afford the name brand insulin prescribed to me. I had to switch to an over-the-counter insulin, Novolin R (also known as “Walmart” insulin); although this version of insulin costs $25 a vial, it is not recommended for long term use. 

Even at that price, I was forced to ration my supply of insulin –– a drug that is as vital to me as water –– just to keep myself alive. I stopped taking insulin when eating meals, and eventually stopped taking it altogether. I felt myself growing weaker and weaker each day. I could actually feel myself slowly dying. I had a family member take me to urgent care, where they sent me straight to the ER at a local hospital. At the hospital, they told me I was in diabetic ketoacidosis, a life-threatening and potentially deadly complication of my illness. I slipped into a diabetic coma and could have died.

After this terrifying incident, my endocrinologist suggested that, if I couldn’t afford my medication and supplies, I should quit my job and rely on state medical assistance. I was mortified and angry that this was the best medical advice that was being given to me. As a young adult, I felt ashamed that I couldn’t afford my insulin on top of paying my bills. I didn’t want to ask for help. I shouldn’t have to ask for help. Insulin and healthcare should be affordable. 

Eventually, through employer benefits I was able to afford my prescribed insulins, Humalog and Lantus, to keep on living. I’m fortunate, but I know there are thousands of people facing this struggle. The reality is that one in four patients with Type 1 Diabetes has had to ration insulin due to high drug pricing. Humalog is priced at almost $300 per vial, while Lantus costs on average more than $300 a vial

I know how fast things can change. In addition to my illness, I’m plagued with the fear that I may not be able to afford my insulin again.

These high prices don’t have to be our reality. 

In April, Democrats in the House of Representatives reintroduced the Elijah E. Cummings Lower Drug Costs Now Act (H.R. 3), legislation to lower prescription drug costs for people like me. H.R. 3 would allow Medicare to negotiate lower prices on behalf of Americans — not just those on Medicare. Additionally, in an address this month, President Joe Biden laid out his vision for lowering the costs of prescription drugs, underscoring that health care is a centerpiece of his Build Back Better agenda. 

This provision is not only the single most effective measure to lower drug costs, it is also popular among voters. New polling shows broad support — 87% among Arizona voters — for requiring drug companies to negotiate with Medicare. Almost two thirds of voters in Arizona, across party lines — including 63% of Democrats, 52% of independents, and 60% Republicans — agree that Americans pay too much for brand name prescription drugs. Public support for meaningful prescription drug reform only continues to build. This public opinion doesn’t come as a shock to Arizonans like me, who struggle to afford expensive, but essential prescription drugs.

Drug companies like to claim that high prices are necessary to offset the high costs of research and development, and that reforms would harm innovation and competitiveness: but Arizonans don’t buy it. Even amidst the pandemic, drug company profits continued to escalate. Further, as the country reckoned with a racial uprising last summer, it was revealed just how much this underlying price gouging particularly impacts BIPOC communities. 

How much longer should Arizonans like me go without treatment for a health problem due to the price of care? How many more of us will not be able to pay for medicine or drugs prescribed to us by our doctors? I shouldn’t have to wonder what damage has been done to my body after rationing the medication I need to live. I’m just like anyone else. I simply want to live a healthy, happy life. 

Our lawmakers in Washington, D.C., need to lower prescription drug costs urgently, so that Arizonans and Americans across the country don’t have to continue making difficult choices and impossible tradeoffs between paying for our prescription drugs or other necessary essentials.

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Iesha Meza
Iesha Meza

Iesha Meza is a Phoenix resident and Type 1 Diabetic. She works as a legal secretary at a Valley law firm and advocates for prescription drug cost reform in her spare time.

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