Commentary: The high price of insulin creates obscene profits for drugmakers

(Darron Cummings | The Associated Press) This April 26, 2017, file photo shows the Eli Lilly & Co. corporate headquarters in Indianapolis.

Recently, as I was leaving a Walgreen’s pharmacy in Ogden, I encountered an elderly man who was just outside the door. He was begging for any money anyone might be able to offer.

He didn’t appear to be homeless. He wasn’t carrying a cardboard sign. He was clean and well dressed. He spoke proper, educated English. He may have been a retired teacher, or plumber, or mechanic, or accountant. He was not a bum.

He looked like an American who had worked his entire life and finally been able to retire. He looked ashamed and embarrassed.

He had tears in his eyes.

He was begging for money to pay for his insulin.

I gave him all the money I had in my wallet and later regretted not trying to learn more about him and how much his insulin would have cost. But when I got home, I did a little research.

I learned that insulin, discovered in 1921, has no generic competitors — only brand-name products are produced.

A new study was presented in late June at the American Diabetes Association’s annual scientific sessions showing that the current cost of insulin results in nearly 25 percent of American diabetes patients not taking insulin as they should. “Self-rationing” of insulin by patients because of high cost can result in serious and potentially life-threatening complications such as blindness, loss of limbs, kidney failure and even death. Many patients are going to pharmacies only to find out that they must pay hundreds — if not thousands — of dollars for insulin.

Insulin is a biologic compound that can be difficult and expensive to produce. There are several reasons it’s become increasingly expensive — some are due to the biology and process involved in the manufacturing, and some are related to government regulations and the pharmaceutical industry’s desire to continue to make a profit.

I learned that in the past 10 years, the cost of insulin in the U.S. has risen from about $30 for a week’s supply to about $300, and, depending upon the type of insulin, it can be much, much more. Yet in Canada, an average week’s supply of insulin still costs about $30.

So what is involved in “the pharmaceutical industry’s desire to make a profit?”

Here’s part of it.

I looked up the pay packages for four top executives at Eli Lilly — one of our primary producers of insulin. Here is what I found:

CEO David Ricks was paid $14,498,000 in 2017. That is $39,720 per day.

Vice President and General Counsel Michael Harrington was paid $4,585,269 or $12,563 per day.

Science and Technology Vice President Enrique Contreros received $6,779,143 or $18,572 per day.

Chief Financial Officer Derrica Rice was handed $7,173,992 for a handsome $19,654 per day.

How much do you suppose that man outside the Walgreen’s receives every day from his retirement or Social Security?

At what point do reasonable profits for an industry and pay for its leadership move from reasonable levels to one that is completely obscene?

What will it take for Americans to become disgusted enough to actually do something and demand that our nation regulate a system that rewards four corporate executives with annual pay packages that total $32,996,404 or a whopping $90,401 per day?

The predatory greed of people like these is disgusting.

While in Ogden, an elderly American man must tearfully beg for enough money to stay alive.

When will American voters finally demand that our lawmakers put an end to this greedy nonsense — or vote them all out of office so we may finally try to actually solve America’s problems?

Luke Dalton is not a journalist or important person of any kind. He is just one more retired American who is increasingly dismayed by the stupidity and greed of our nation’s political and corporate leaders.

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