‘Our only option is to pay or die:’ Woman with diabetes advocates for lower drug costs

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WASHINGTON, D.C. — As a single mother, Mindy Salango says skyrocketing prescription drug costs forced her to make impossible choices.

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Salango has type 1 diabetes and relies on insulin to survive.

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“In order to keep food on the table and a roof over our heads, sacrifices had to be made and oftentimes, that was my insulin,” said Salango.

Salango came to Capitol Hill Friday to share her story as House Democrats released findings from an investigation into the rising cost of drug prices.

“Our only option is to pay or die,” Salango said.

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The report by the majority staff for the House Committee on Oversight and Reform said it investigated businesses practices in the pharmaceutical industry.

“Drug companies have raised prices relentlessly for decades while manipulating the patent system and other laws to delay competition from lower-priced generics,” the report said. “These companies have specifically targeted the U.S. market for higher prices, even while cutting prices in other countries, because weaknesses in our health care system have allowed them to get away with outrageous prices and anticompetitive conduct.”

“Insulin prices in the United States are the highest in the world,” said Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-NY), Chairwoman of the House Committee on Oversight and Reform.

There’s a divide in Washington over the best way to address the high cost of prescription drugs.

Democrats are pushing the Build Better Act which would allow Medicare to negotiate for lower prices and cap out of pocket spending.

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“Prices have raised to over $1,200 a month for insulin that is needed for diabetic patients,” said Maloney. “The Build Back Better bill would cap it at $35 a month.”

Republicans argue that the government should not dictate how the private sector runs.

In a statement, the office for House Minority Leader Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-CA.) said: “The proposals Democrats included in their Build Back Better bill would drastically reduce research and development. Multiple reports indicate this legislation would result in fewer new cures and treatments. It is possible to reduce drug prices without sacrificing new treatments that would afflict millions of Americans. House Republicans have already introduced H.R. 19, the Lower Cost, More Cures Act. The legislation is comprised of bipartisan provisions all of which could have the support to pass and would deliver lower costs for Americans.”

Our Washington News Bureau spoke with Rep. Mike Kelly (R-PA.), a Vice-Chair of the Congressional Caucus on Diabetes.

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Kelly is a diabetic himself and has pushed for the availability of generic insulin in order to provide a more affordable option.

“We do have to have oversight, but we don’t have to have overreach,” said Kelly. “Because of the way the government gets involved, you are going to eliminate a lot of competition… Neither party wants anybody to have to pay more than they should especially for drugs that they have to have, for pharmaceuticals they have to have. The question is what road do you take to get there?”

In response to the report from House Democrats, the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America (PhRMA) blasted the findings.

“Like the disastrous bill championed by Democratic leaders, this misleading report fails to address abusive practices by insurance companies and middlemen who profit off a broken system while patients can’t afford their medicines,” said Debra DeShong, Executive Vice President for Public Affairs for PhRMA. This so-called investigation has ignored the real affordability problems people face, like rising deductibles and other out-of-pocket costs. This is nothing more than a partisan exercise to justify an extreme proposal that will restrict patient access to lifesaving cures and treatments. We think there’s a better way that would lower costs at the pharmacy, while preserving choice, access and innovation. We are committed to working with policymakers on commonsense, bipartisan solutions that address the real affordability challenges patients face.”

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Meantime, Salango is urging Congress to take action to help others just like her.

“This is not healthcare,” said Salango. “This is survival of the richest.”

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