On August 29, President Biden announced that Medicare has selected the first 10 medications that they will negotiate lower prices for. These negotiations were made possible by the Inflation Reduction Act that passed last year. Unfortunately, the drug manufacturers are suing to try to stop the negotiations. They want to keep raking in their profits at the expense of sick people and taxpayers. I feel hopeful, though, that these prices are actually going to go down in spite of the lawsuits. Every other country in the world negotiates with these corporations on behalf of their citizens. Why should Americans have to pay more for them than anyone else?
Several of the drugs are diabetes medicines. 37.3 million Americans have diabetes—that’s 11.3% of the population. Diabetes is not only one of the most deadly diseases people face but also one of the most expensive to treat, and it only gets more expensive if you don’t give diabetics the care they need from the beginning.
I was diagnosed with Type II Diabetes when I was 50 years old. The first medication I was prescribed was Januvia, one of the 10 medications that will soon be reduced in price. It’s produced by Merck, and in 2021 there were 934,000 Americans who were taking it, or at least had it prescribed to them. The average cost is $4,344/patient. The cost to Medicare in 2021 was $4.06 billion. Since they brought it to market, Merck has raised the price 275 percent.
I was on Medicaid when I was 50, and even though Januvia was effective for me, Medicaid stopped paying for it because it was too expensive. They put me on a different medication, one that made me so sick I couldn’t function. It was a painful and dangerous time in my life until a medication was found that I could take and Medicaid would pay for.
I’m 67 now, and I have Medicare. I also have Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD), asthma, and high blood pressure. My copay for my oxygen was $500 this month, on top of the $60/month for my COPD medications. I will have to keep working for the rest of my life to afford this, and I pray that my health will allow me to do that.
Today, I’m a CNA for a rehab center in Hampton Roads. When I was younger I worked for a home health agency. I have always worked with elderly patients, and I’ve been doing this work for 40 years. It’s my calling, and I love my patients. It can be heartbreaking, but they are special people. Being a diabetic myself I understand what they go through.
Many of my patients would skip taking their insulin because it was too expensive. They would take it every other day. People with diabetes often can’t afford all the equipment they need—the needles and the glucose meter and more. I saw people develop neuropathy and even lose some of their limbs because they couldn’t afford to take care of themselves. What the elderly go through because of our society’s choices is horrifying.
Some diabetics can’t afford to eat regularly. If your SNAP payments are $35/month and your medical expenses are $600, how are you going to pay for three meals a day? But if you’re diabetic and you skip meals, your blood sugar won’t stay steady. You have to keep it in balance, especially when you’re elderly.
It would have saved me and many other people a great deal of suffering if Januvia had always been affordable, but I feel blessed that the government is finally going to negotiate for us, and I appreciate that. I appreciate that Sen. Warner, Sen. Kaine, and our former Rep. Luria all voted for the Inflation Reduction Act that made this possible. I will not forget it.
Shelia Carter is a member of the Norfolk Chapter of Virginia Organizing