Nicole Holt-Smith arrived at pharmaceutical giant Sanofi’s research facility in Cambridge, Massachusetts, on Friday carrying a powerful testament to the consequences of price gouging essential medicines under a for-profit health system: the ashes of her son, Alec. The parents were flanked by dozens of local diabetes patients, doctors, nurses and students affiliated with the Right Care Alliance, a grassroots group fighting for a health care system that puts people over profits.
Alec Raeshawn Smith lived with Type 1 diabetes and lost health coverage under his parent’s insurance plan when he turned 26. He died last year after attempting to ration his insulin supply by cutting doses to make it last longer. Along with Eli Lilly and Novo Nordisk, Sanofi is one the three major insulin manufacturers accused of gouging diabetes patients worldwide who use the blood-sugar regulating hormone as a prescription drug in order to stay alive.
“Sanofi’s high prices are killing people like my son Alec,” Smith-Holt said in a statement before the action. “I’m sick of them listening to my story and then doing nothing. I’m not asking them to lower prices anymore, I’m demanding it.”
Insulin products costs very little to manufacturer, but prices have skyrocketed in recent years. A vial of insulin that once cost around $25 now goes for about $400 to $500. The activists are demanding that Sanofi immediately lower the price of its insulin products by 90 percent. Recent research showing that the cost of manufacturing insulin is so low that companies like Sanofi could drastically reduce their prices and still enjoy a 500 percent retail markup. Insulin has been around for a century and costs about $5 to manufacture, so nobody should die from lack of access.
Globally, half of the people who need insulin can’t reliably get access to it. Under a for-profit health system, even people who have health coverage can find medicine unaffordable.With 6 million people in the US insulin-dependent, nearly 40 percent of Americans are uninsured or facing high deductibles that leave their medicine costs uncovered.
For Alec, this meant that his insulin and supplies cost almost $1,300 a month. People with Type 1 diabetes need to use insulin to survive on a regular basis, making them vulnerable to price gouging. Standing between people living with Type 1 diabetes and the insulin that keeps them alive are a number of wealthy corporations that value profit margins over human health.