OpEd: Reducing the Financial Pain of a Chronic Condition


Families’ pocketbooks are feeling a lot of pressure this summer.

A full tank of gas now costs me $85. The grocery bill, even with just the basics like milk and bread, creeps higher and higher. Day-to-day life is getting more expensive.

This is especially true when I replenish my monthly supply of insulin to control my blood sugar. Anyone living with diabetes knows that the out-of-pocket cost of insulin has been skyrocketing. Diabetes is the most expensive chronic medical condition in this country. The price of insulin nearly tripled between 2002 and 2013. One in four Americans living with diabetes rations their insulin in order to pay for other everyday costs like rent and food, according to the American Diabetes Association.

As I near retirement, I hope to be healthy enough to enjoy that time with my family and friends. Yet the reality of a fixed income and Medicare is becoming more and more concerning. I have gone through several kinds of treatment for my diabetes, and currently take both oral and injectable medications. The cost of supplemental insurance and Medicare is daunting enough without worrying which treatment plan my insurance provider may cover.

An elderly patient I know was advised by her HMO to reduce her injectable medications and increase her oral medication. She later went into lactic academia from doubled doses of her oral medication. This change by her HMO was likely to save money — for the HMO. It is estimated that one vial of human insulin costs $2.28 to $3.42 to produce, according to a study from BMJ Global Health. Yet, retail costs are between $180 and $350 per vial depending on type. The difference is corporate greed.

Politicians in Washington, D.C., are considering a bill that would cap insulin costs at $35. At that price, millions of Americans living with diabetes would see their personal finances change dramatically for the better. No longer would patients have to face terrible decisions between paying for their medication and making rent.

As senators debate this legislation, we already know where many House Republicans stand. Earlier this year, Congress considered H.R. 6833, the Affordable Insulin Now bill. The bill passed, despite a “no” vote from our local Rep. David Valadao, R-Bakersfield. Valadao joined 192 of his colleagues in rejecting efforts to cap insulin prices. With this vote, the congressman sided with multibillion-dollar pharmaceutical companies, not the working families who face the burden of paying for this life-saving drug.

This is particularly offensive when one considers the health challenges we face here in Kern County. The Public Health Services Department estimates 78 percent of our adults are overweight or obese. We have more diabetes-related deaths than anywhere else in California. There is both a human and a financial cost to the state of our health. Kern County has 2,198 emergency department visits and 998 hospitalizations each year due to diabetes. There are 248 diabetes-related deaths a year, and more than $84 million in hospital charges.

I sincerely hope the Senate joins the House of Representatives in capping insulin prices. Prescription drug prices are out of control — and Americans can no longer bear that burden.

Suzanne Villaruz lives in Delano.

This op-ed originally ran in the Bakersfield Californian.