In California, the housing crisis has often made news with skyrocketing rents and affordable housing shortages. Yet, there is something many California residents need for survival, even more than a roof over their heads, that has increased at a rate that far outpaces even our housing market.
That necessity is insulin, the price of which increased by 300% from 2003 to 2012 and then again by 64% from 2016 to today. Insulin is necessary to live. Many of us are lucky enough to create our own. Some of us, like my nine-year-old son Andrew, are not. Andrew has type 1 diabetes and relies on man-made insulin to regulate his blood glucose levels. Without this hormone, he will die.
Nine percent of Californians suffer from diabetes, and another 46% are believed to be undiagnosed or prediabetic. This chronic autoimmune disease was the seventh leading cause of death in the state in 2017 and disproportionately impacts California’s Latino and African-American communities. Diabetes can be managed, however, if you have access to affordable insulin.
My family is lucky because Andrew is covered by a good insurance policy. Sadly, many living with diabetes are forced to ration their insulin in order to afford other necessities — like housing, gas or food. Far too often, this has led to people dying unnecessarily. And while diabetes impacts men and women equally, women are even more likely than men to dangerously ration their insulin due to economic circumstances.
Now, amid the COVID-19 pandemic and its impact on high-risk populations with chronic conditions like diabetes, it is even more critical to lower copays to ensure access for Californians living with diabetes to life-saving insulin.
I work as a supervisor overseeing daily operations of a Bay Area Meals on Wheels program. During the COVID-19 pandemic, I have worked long hours as we more than quintupled the number of meals delivered to our most vulnerable residents. To protect Andrew, I have stayed at a hotel so as not to put him at risk. This has been extremely difficult for my family, but I know we’re not alone.
I won’t always be able to protect Andrew and he won’t always have the insurance coverage that he has now, but I shouldn’t have to lay awake at night worrying that my son may die someday because insulin is too expensive.
Insulin was patented in 1923 at the cost of $1 for each scientist that played a hand in its discovery — $3 total. Today, one vial — which lasts no more than 28 days — costs $275 on average!
Gov. Gavin Newsom’s 2020 budget outlined two scenarios for alleviating the out-of-pocket cost of insulin. The first was empowering California to negotiate for lower costs en masse and the second the possibility of manufacturing our own generic drugs. These options would absolutely help in the long run, but given the severe cuts made to the budget in the governor’s May revise, these plans are now unlikely, and Californians living with diabetes need help now.
Assembly Bill 2203 (Adrin Nazarian) will cap every insulin-based copay to $50 per 30-day supply. This means that even for someone using two types of insulin (which many must), their maximum out-of-pocket cost will be $100. And while $1,200 per year for a hormone that is necessary to live and that many of us can make on our own is still too expensive, it will help ensure that those living with diabetes do not have to choose between paying their rent or buying insulin, and it will help ensure that Andrew lives a long, healthy life.
AB 2203 is critically needed to help millions of Californians suffering from diabetes avoid economic distress and even death. Now more than ever, as our nation grapples with the economic uncertainty of this pandemic, it is imperative that Sen. Richard Pan set AB 2203 for a hearing in the Senate Health Committee. People living with diabetes during the COVID-19 pandemic need our help now more than ever to have affordable access to insulin.
Corin McCoy is the supervisor for The Jerry Larson Food Basket at The Health Trust in San Jose.