CINCINNATI, Ohio (Sinclair Broadcast Group) - Imagine needing medicine to stay alive and the cost of that drug becomes unaffordable. That's the situation facing many people living with diabetes today who rely on insulin to live.
Diabetics and their families converged on pharmaceutical giant Eli Lilly in Indianapolis to protest considerable hikes in the prices of Insulin, including Lilly's popular Humalog,
Nicole Smith-Holt lost her son in 2017. "Official cause of death was diabetic ketoacidosis," Nicole Smith-Holt said. Her son, Alec, died just months after he turned 26.
"Unofficially, he died from corporate greed," Nicole said. Even though he was working, Nicole told us Alec could not afford to pay for his life-saving insulin, including Humalog. "He started rationing his insulin and he was found dead three days before his payday," Nicole said. Nicole is far from alone.
Antroinette Worsham still grieves for her daughter, Antavia.
"I miss her," said Antroinette Worsham.
Antavia was just 22 years old and she relied on insulin, including Humalog, to stay alive. She had two jobs and insurance, but her mother said it wasn't enough.
"She couldn’t afford her insulin. She rationed," Worhsam said.
Eli Lilly is one of several pharmaceutical companies now being blamed by those living with diabetes for the skyrocketing cost of insulin.
The company declined an on-camera interview, but responded to us in writing, stating its "last price increase for insulin was in May 2017, which has been our one price increase over the last 26 months."
While that's true, the price had skyrocketed for years before that.
According to the Union of Concerned Scientists, the price of Humalog increased by 1,157 percent in 20 years, from 1996 to 2017.
The increasing price of insulin has captured the attention of Washington and Congress has held hearings. "Alec is not the only one who has paid the ultimate price," Nicole Smith-Holt told Congress. The FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb rolled out his plan to lower insulin prices by: increasing competition; expanding the number of generic manufacturers of insulin; and re-classifying insulin from a drug to a biologic, which makes it easier for manufacturers to copy insulin. The FDA plan isn't expected to take effect until next year.
In its response, Lilly said it's donating insulin to free clinics and that it set up a toll-free hotline to help save at the pharmacy.
But those living with diabetes say that's not enough. All Lilly and the other companies need to do is lower their insulin prices, they say.
Those living with diabetes have no choice but to continue paying a high price to live while families of victims who couldn't afford insulin continue to fight for reform.
"Stop the greed. Start putting patients’ lives over your profits," Nicole Smith-Holt said.
You can read Eli Lilly's full statement to Spotlight on America here:
"We’re committed to ensuring people who need insulin have access to it. That’s why in August we opened the Lilly Diabetes Solution Center – a helpline that points people to solutions based upon their personal circumstances. Options span from savings at the pharmacy to insulin that is donated to free clinics. In just over two months, more than 2,500 people have found meaningful savings on Lilly insulin. People can call (833) 808-1234 to learn whether there are savings Lilly can provide. We truly want to help.
“It will take continued effort and commitment across the health care system to affect change, and we are committed to doing our part. Unfortunately, some people are provided high-deductible insurance plans, which require people to pay thousands of dollars before coverage begins. For people in these situations, the solution center is an important option.”
(Note: We are sometimes asked about our recent price increase history. For your background, our last price increase for insulin was May of 2017, which has been our one price increase over the last 26 months.)