Americans agree that prescription drug prices are too high. Countless individuals and families across the country are grappling with impossible choices between buying the medication they need to stay healthy and paying the bills. And with no prescription is that truer than insulin.

A member of the congregation I serve in Portland can’t afford the insulin he needs to manage his diabetes. Even though he works a full-time job with overtime, having worked hard to earn a promotion to a supervisory position, his low hourly salary is inadequate to cover even the co-pay on top of his rising rent and other expenses. He makes difficult decisions every day, like rationing his insulin, skipping a dose now and then, even drinking extra water and fasting. He is already facing irreversible damage to his eyesight, and his doctors tell him his health will continue to deteriorate without consistent access to insulin. In response, our faith community has banded together to cover the cost of insulin each month in order to keep our friend alive. It’s a major expense, but the alternative is unthinkable.

Like my parishioner, many are struggling to cover the skyrocketing cost of insulin, which can be in the hundreds or even thousands of dollars per month. And that comes as no surprise when the cost of insulin to treat Type 1 diabetes doubled from 2012 to 2016. Big pharmaceutical companies have claimed they increased costs to cover the cost of research, but insulin for the treatment of diabetes was discovered nearly 100 years ago and has changed very little since.

Studies estimate that our friend is not alone in rationing his insulin: In fact, one in four patients with diabetes is rationing or switching to lower-grade options – and too often, the consequences are deadly.

While churches may be able to help some individuals, the problem is much too big for us to solve. Lawmakers have a moral responsibility to step in and address this crisis. Politicians from both parties have made big promises about lowering the cost of drugs, but so far there’s been no meaningful action to rein Big Pharma’s power to price-gouge and make medicine affordable for people who need it. And things could get a lot worse very soon.

The Trump administration’s lawsuit to overturn the Affordable Care Act threatens to roll back health care coverage for 20 million people and to end protections for 130 million people with pre-existing conditions, including people with diabetes and pre-diabetes, which, according to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates, affects about 70 million Americans.


Coupled with the current attacks on health care, policymakers’ inaction on drug prices means that Americans like my parishioner will keep facing impossible choices – and churches like mine are covering drug costs instead of investing in their food pantries, service to those who are experiencing homelessness and other ministries in our communities.

It doesn’t have to be this way. The Lower Drug Costs Now Act of 2019 would substantially reduce the cost of insulin and other drugs by allowing the government to negotiate lower prices for Medicare enrollees. These prices would be benchmarked on substantially lower prices that are the norm in other countries. The proposal would also impose serious penalties on pharmaceutical companies that don’t offer the same lower prices to people covered by other types of insurance.

If the bill becomes law, estimated total savings for Medicare would be $345 billion over a six-year period. In the first year, drug prices could be lowered more than 70 percent relative to existing prices. Over 10 years, U.S. households would save hundreds of billions in health care costs.

Unsurprisingly, we’ve already seen partisan resistance to the proposal. But this shouldn’t be about politics. The cost of insulin is too high, no matter who you voted for in 2016, or plan to vote for in 2020.

With pharmaceutical companies raking in billions in profits and enjoying massive tax breaks, individuals, families and faith communities shouldn’t be shouldering the burden of outrageous drug prices. No one should be forced to ration medication that they depend on to stay alive.

It’s easy to make big promises about lowering drug prices. Now it’s time for lawmakers on both sides of the aisle to act.

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