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The Price Of Insulin Has Skyrocketed Over the Years. Here’s Why.

There are 37.3 million Americans that have diabetes today. That is about 1 in 10 U.S adults. Diabetes is the seventh leading cause of death in the U.S and is often accompanied by high blood pressure, high cholesterol, chronic kidney disease, and for some, even vision impairment or blindness.

Luckily, diabetes is manageable thanks to the invention of synthetic insulin. It has also been shown to be reversible in many cases through lifestyle changes, but that is not what Big Pharma wants you to hear. They want to keep the conversation focused on managing diabetes with insulin so that patients become customers for life. 

In the early 20th century, diabetes was a rare but fatal condition with no good treatment option. Then in 1923, Eli Lily & Co – now one of the largest pharmaceutical companies in the world – developed the first commercially produced synthetic insulin. The researchers responsible for developing this early insulin version would receive the 1923 Nobel Prize for their work. 

The invention of insulin and a few other vital drugs in the 1920s allowed Eli Lily to keep its workers employed and increased sales to $13 million in 1932, even as the rest of the country weathered the Great Depression. Eli Lily & Co was off to the races, helping people manage diabetes and making massive profits along the way.

In 1982, the company released a new and improved version of synthetic insulin. Called Humulin, Eli Lilly scientists used recombinant DNA technology for the first time to make an insulin product identical to the human body’s hormone. 

Fast forward to 2016, and insulin became Lilly’s best-selling product, making the company one of the world’s three largest producers of the diabetes-treating drug. However, in 2017 the company was named in an investigation into possible insulin price-fixing. 

According to a 2016 study in the Journal of the American Medical Association, insulin prices in the U.S nearly tripled between 2002 and 2016. It has also been documented that Eli Lilly & Co and the other two largest insulin manufacturers have raised prices in near lockstep for years. That is price fixing, and it is illegal. Hold that thought.

The price of insulin is rising annually, but the manufacturer’s stock price recently took a big hit

Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you probably know that Elon Musk recently purchased social media platform Twitter. One of the recent changes to the Twitter platform is that users can now pay $8 for a verified blue check mark, which has opened the door for people to impersonate large business accounts on the platform. 

Last Thursday, Eli Lilly & Co appeared to tweet that insulin would now be free, but it turns out that tweet was actually from someone posing as the pharma giant after purchasing a check mark. Yikes. 

In response to the fake tweet, Eli Lilly shares dropped by almost 5%, meaning a paper loss of over $15 billion for the Big Pharma giant. The fake tweet was eventually taken down, and the real Eli Lilly Account apologized for the phony tweet and any confusion it caused.

To add insult to injury, Senator Bernie Sanders tweeted the following in response to Eli Lilly’s apology: 

“Let’s be clear. Eli Lilly should apologize for increasing the price of insulin by over 1,200% since 1996 to $275 while it costs less than $10 to manufacture. The inventors of insulin sold their patents in 1923 for $1 to save lives, not to make Eli Lilly’s CEO obscenely rich.”

Boom. Roasted.

The key takeaway? Big Pharma sucks, and insulin should not cost as much as it does. The average price for a vial of insulin is $12 in Canada and about $99 here in the U.S. That is not ok, and our system needs to change if we are ever going to get out of the mess we are in. 

It shouldn’t take a fake Twitter account to get the conversation going about how absurdly high drug prices are in the U.S, but if that is what it takes, we’ll take it.

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