Big news to help curb rising health care costs was announced by North Carolina State Treasurer Dale Folwell.

Starting next year, North Carolina’s teachers, state troopers and all other state employees will have no out-of-pocket costs for insulin. Folwell’s office says, this will save state employees $5 million and is designed to increase adherence to the drug most commonly prescribed to treat diabetes.

This move comes at an important time as there appears to be no end in sight to Big Pharma’s price gouging of insulin.

According to the Mayo Clinic, the most commonly used forms of insulin cost 10 times more in the United States than in any other developed country. And while insulin prices in the United States have risen at a rate far greater than inflation, prices in other developed countries have stayed the same.

In examining these cost trends, the American Journal of Managed Care found this disturbing trend:

In 1996, when Eli Lilly’s Humalog first came out, the price for a 1-month supply of insulin was $21. Last year, that same 1-month supply costs upwards $275. That is a 1200% increase on the original price.

How is Big Pharma able to get away with this? The Mayo Clinic points to three key factors.

  1. Big Pharma is exploiting a vulnerable population. People need insulin to survive. They will pay anything for the drug. It’s literally life and death.
  2. Big Pharma has a monopoly on insulin. Novo Nordisk, Sanofi-Aventis, and Eli Lilly produce nearly every insulin product sold in the United States.
  3. Big Pharma protects its products with aggressive patenting. That’s right – even though insulin was first made back in 1921, Big Pharma still finds a way to patent the drug to protect its profits. Every time a new variation comes up, multiple patents are slapped on.

It’s a perfect storm for price gouging. Only a few of the giant Pharma companies can make and sell the product, and they know people will pay any price because they need it to live.

Treasurer Folwell is doing the right thing for North Carolina’s hard-working state employees, and he should be widely commended for it.

There are, however, millions of North Carolinians who depend on insulin that aren’t state employees. Their costs will continue to skyrocket until Big Pharma’s insulin monopoly is broken up.

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