Illinois should make insulin affordable for all

On the centennial of the drug’s discovery, a new bill can help our state lead the nation in making insulin accessible to everyone with diabetes in our state.

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Illinois should lead the way with a law to make insulin affordable for everyone who needs it, a state representative writes.

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This year marks the 100th anniversary of one of the most remarkable discoveries in modern medicine: the use of insulin to treat diabetes.

Before the last century, diabetes was often a death sentence. Little was understood about how it worked or what could control it. But in 1922, a team of Canadian scientists realized that by extracting insulin from animals and injecting it into human patients, the worst symptoms of diabetes could be controlled.

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Famously, the team of scientists sold the patent for their wonder drug to the University of Toronto for $1. Their explicit purpose was to make sure that “no one could secure a profitable monopoly” from the treatment, and that as many patients as possible could have access to it.

Fast-forward 100 years. It’s not exactly a “profitable monopoly” — it’s a hyper-profitable three-headed monster. Eli Lilly, Novo Nordisk, and Sanofi make over 90% of the world’s insulin, reaping billions of dollars of profits from their products. And the prices for their drugs are soaring: Humalog, Eli Lilly’s principal insulin product, went from $35 a vial in 2001 to $234 a vial in 2015, a staggering 585% increase. Other insulins have seen similar price hikes.

This isn’t because the products have gotten better. It’s the same stuff, just way more expensive. And the “Big Three” get away with it because they control the market, and because people with diabetes need their products to survive. It’s a spit in the face to the scientists who discovered this miracle cure.

Here in Illinois, we’re going to do something about it. In 2019, I passed a law capping copays for insulin at $100 a month. But state laws can only cover certain types of insurance, so it only affected around 15% of Illinoisans. And we know $100 a month is still too much.

It’s time to do better. We need to lower that copay, and we also need to provide alternatives for the 85% of people who aren’t covered by the cap.

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That’s why I’ve introduced House Bill 5300, the Insulin for All Act. The bill will allow for any person with diabetes who’s running out of insulin to walk into a pharmacy and get an emergency 30-day supply at a minimal cost. It requires manufacturers to create patient assistance programs that offer low-cost insulin to eligible patients. It will leverage the state’s bargaining power to offer a negotiated price on insulin for any person with diabetes who can’t get it cheaper elsewhere. And it lowers that copay cap to $35 a month.

The past two years have been a vivid reminder that pharmaceutical research can produce incredible results, as with the COVID-19 vaccines. But no matter how great they are, drugs don’t work if people can’t afford them.

We’re going to make sure the dream of insulin’s discoverers lives on, one hundred years later. Their miracle cure will finally be affordable for everyone in Illinois.

Will Guzzardi, a Democrat from Chicago, represents the 39th District in the Illinois House.

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