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Insulin users decry 'debt or death dilemma'

Insulin users decry 'debt or death dilemma. (Photo: Kyle Harvey)
Insulin users decry 'debt or death dilemma. (Photo: Kyle Harvey)
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Utah mom Mindie Hooley says insulin purchases have wrecked their finances.

"We were losing cars, we lost our home," she said. "We were having to decide whether we could eat that month."

For her teenage son with Type 1 diabetes, insulin is life-sustaining. But even with insurance, the cost of his treatment balloons quickly.

"They didn't cover any insulin at all until we meet our deductible, so we were paying $800 a month," she said.

Hooley, and others like her, staged a nationwide vigil Saturday night, calling attention to the people across America they say have died because they couldn't afford insulin.

The event was organized by T1International, a global nonprofit which advocates for people with Type 1 Diabetes. The Utah chapter met outside the capitol.

"This is something I call the debt or death dilemma," said nurse practitioner Michele Litchman, an assistant professor at the University of Utah's College of Nursing.

Litchman has done research on the effects of insulin pricing, noting that one insulin-dependent child can lessen opportunities for their siblings.

"They can't afford even just being on a basketball team and affording the basketball shoes," she said.

Insulin has not always been so expensive. Demonstrators Saturday blamed the manufacturers of the drug for the high sticker price.

Litchman attributed the expense to high-deductible health insurance plans and middlemen known as pharmacy benefit managers.

Norman Thurston, the director of the state's Office of Health Care Statistics, told 2News over the phone that the insulin market suffers from non-competitive pricing. There are three manufacturers in the U.S., yet prices remain stubbornly high. He also mentioned the role of pharmacy benefit managers in the prices.

Insulin is sold in Canada and Mexico for 10% of the prices in the U.S. Thurston said there are efforts to ramp up deliveries from those markets, which could put downward pressure on domestic prices.

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Thurston said he's been in contact with T1International about Canadian insulin.

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