An insulin vial with the caption "Spare a Rose Save a Child"

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Two big topics for this mini-espidoe. Stacey talks about Spare a Rose and talks to the leaders of Patients for Affordable Drugs.

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Spare a Rose is an initiative to get insulin and other vital diabetes supplies to children in the developing world. Learn more here 

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Stacey also talks about what we can do about the price of insulin with Patients for Affordable Drugs founder David Mitchell and Lauren Stanford, the community organizing director.

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Episode transcription: 

Stacey Simms  0:00

This episode of diabetes Connections is brought to you by the world’s worst diabetes mom real life stories of parenting a child with Type One Diabetes available at Amazon as a paperback ebook and audiobook. Learn more at diabetes


Announcer  0:20

this is diabetes connections with Stacey Simms.


Stacey Simms  0:26

Hey, welcome to this week’s minisode something a little bit different. I’ve been doing these short episodes all year long for 2020. And this is our first interview type episode. But I wanted to get some information to you that I thought would be interesting and helpful and about patient advocacy. So we’re going to talk about what’s been happening with patients for affordable drugs. I spoke about them. Last fall of it put out a report and I wanted to follow up on it. Of course there’s a lot of information in the news these days about the price of insulin price of insulin There were advocates at State of the Union address. These are not the same advocates, but a lot of the same push. And I also want to talk about spare arose. So let’s do that first spirit arose is an initiative that happens every year to help kids with diabetes in developing countries, so that they can get insulin. It doesn’t take a lot of money to help out and it really does make a huge difference in the lives of these people around the world. Why is it called spare arose? Well, back in 2013, a group of people in the basically the diabetes online community realized that for the price of one rose for Valentine’s Day, they could make a huge difference in the lives of children. So you spare a rose, you save a child, they’ve expanded it so that you can, you know, spare quite a few roses. There are different ways to pay for this. But it’s really a very simple concept. Where does the money go? There is an organization called Life or child, and they partner with diabetes centers in places like Rwanda, Mexico, India, to give critical supplies to young people who really have nowhere else to turn. Right now, this program supports 21,000 people in 42 countries. And the goal here, no child should die of diabetes. If you’d like to learn more, I will link up everything in the episode homepage. You can see pictures of the families that have already been helped. You can read stories of kids who need help, and you can find easy easy ways to donate. So if you can possibly spare arose this Valentine’s Day, it would be very much appreciated. We have done a lot on this in the past. I will link up a very fun episode we did a few years ago with Carrie Sparling and Scott Johnson and Bennett Dunlap, where we talked about this initiative. Gosh, it was probably 2015 maybe was 2016 but it was a while ago about learning more, and why I really do urge you to consider taking part in Spare a Rose

While you’re learning about that initiative, I also thought it was a good time to take a look at what’s happening here in this country, and what’s going on with our communities struggle to get the word out about the price of insulin. And if you’ve been following a lot of this, it has really heated up in the last couple of years. It seems like a lot of state legislators are taking this on. But at the federal level, it seems like it is stalling and you know, what can we do? Well, patients for affordable drugs put out a report a couple of months ago now. And I want to follow up with them and learn more about what they’re doing. What we can do what what can be done about the price of insulin because I think when many of us hear this, we feel like there’s just nothing I can do. It’s overwhelming. Politicians are just arguing they’re never going to get anything done. Well that may be true, that last bit, but there is something we can do. So I wanted to talk to the founder David Mitchell and community organizing director Lauren stand I should note that since I talked to them, each are three, which they’re mentioning here did pass the House at the time of this interview, it had not yet passed, but the Senate has not acted. I reached out to Lauren to get an update on that. And she said that they need to pass the health care package by May. So they are pushing for them to include s 2542. It is less far reaching than HR three, she says but would bring meaningful relief to many patients. This is also called the prescription drug pricing Reduction Act introduced by Senators Grassley and widen and it has passed out of the senate finance committee as of this taping in a bipartisan fashion. It has not yet passed the full Senate and it includes the following it would penalize drug makers for price gouging. It caps Medicare beneficiaries out of pocket spending on prescription drugs, and it requires pharmaceutical companies to justify high prices. I will link up information on this as well as h3 and the other items we talked about in the episode homepage. Here is my interview with David Mitchell and Lauren Stanford, David and Lauren, thanks so much for taking some time to kind of explain a little bit about this. I really appreciate it. Thanks for being here.


David Mitchel  5:18

Thank you, Stacey, for the opportunity.


Stacey Simms  5:20

Thank you for having us. Before we talk about the report itself, and you know what we can do as individuals. David, let me just ask you to explain a little bit about what patients for affordable drugs is all about. Can you talk to us about the organization?


David Mitchell  5:35

Yes, patients for affordable drugs is the only national patient organization focused exclusively on policies to lower drug prices. We’re independent, we’re bipartisan, and we don’t take money from anyone who profits from the development or distribution of prescription drugs. We do two main things we collect patient stories elevate those stories to policy makers and elected officials and train people to be advocates Lowering drug prices. And we are building a community of patients and allies that can be mobilized in support of policies to lower drug prices, both at the state and federal levels. My wife and I decided to do this, because she’s a cancer survivor. I am a cancer patient. I had an incurable blood cancer. My drugs are very expensive. They’re keeping me alive, but they’re keeping me alive at a cost list cost of $875,000 a year right now. And just one of my drugs and oral cancer drugs carries an out of pocket cost of more than $13,000 a year. So we have a personal experience here. And we’re trying to bring that experience to bear to mobilize folks who are struggling with high drug prices, whether it’s for cancer drugs or Crohn’s disease, drugs, inflammatory drugs, insulin, there are millions of people who are struggling We’re trying to help them have a voice and get something done that will actually lower the prices of drugs.


Stacey Simms  7:06

Was it your personal experience with your cancer diagnosis that led you to start patients for affordable drugs? Or had you been doing this and then this happened.


David Mitchell  7:15

I had been doing health policy work in Washington, DC for about 30 years, then I got cancer. And my experience as a patient was really searing for me to find out how difficult I prices could make trying to manage a chronic disease or stay alive with an acute deadly disease. And I became increasingly frustrated because there were no patient groups speaking out about drug prices. Literally one day I woke up and I had an epiphany. And it was, hey, maybe if nobody else is going to do this, you should try. And that morning, I went downstairs and my wife said, Honey, can I retire? Can I work for free? Can we put in some of our own Money and try and build an organization of patients that would fight for lower drug prices? And she said yes. So here we are.


Stacey Simms  8:07

All right, I could talk to you about the organization for hours and hours. But we’re really here to talk about this report the truth about insulin prices. So Lauren, let me ask you, as a person who lives with Type One Diabetes, what do you get out of this report? what’s the takeaway here?


Lauren Stanford  8:22

Well, Stacy, I will tell you, when I first read this report, it was kind of shocking. I knew the prices of insulin, were out of control, but just seeing it all written down and laid out. Like that was kind of horrifying for me as a patient. And I know when people in the community saw it, it was kind of the same feeling like seeing the chart with the prices just going up and up and up and reading about the 300% increases and all this and that it was really like startling, but really good information, but kind of heartbreaking at the same time.


Stacey Simms  8:56

Lauren, let’s go through this a little bit, because in the report, you will Aren’t pulling punches. I mean, there’s a section here that’s headline price gouging and price fixing. Tell us about that. So not pulling punches. Yeah,


Lauren Stanford  9:09

we’re really there’s a lot of facts in this. And I think that the spec facts kind of speak for themselves, the price gouging. You can when you’re reading the report, you can see that the three companies Eli, Lilly, Sanofi and Novartis, they’ve all been working together, it seems and price fixing this insulin to keep raising the prices and the report, our chart goes back to 2001. And you can see since then there’s been this steady increase from all three of them. It’s just crazy. I mean, I can’t put into words how exactly it makes me feel. But David might be able to speak a little more to the history of the price gouging and fixing


David Mitchell  9:47

Well, the fact of the matter is that those three companies have managed to take control of the global insulin market, and they have effectively blocked other competitors from entering the market with The enough competition to actually drive down prices. And rather than compete with each other on price, they are content to maintain market shares and divide up the profits and be able to keep raising their prices in lockstep. It’s very important to look at that chart and see whether or not they talk to each other and say, Hey, we’re going to raise our price 15% next month, or not, they can each see what the other one is doing. And clearly, none of the three is willing to lower the price in order to try and steal market share their content to keep high profits and divide them up. We’re going to have to break that cartel in order to lower prices or develop the ability to negotiate with the three directly which is why legislation to permit direct negotiation by Medicare in this country for lower prices is so important.


Stacey Simms  10:54

One of the things that that strikes me when you use words like cartel and gouging and fixed is why hasn’t the government already stepped in? If this is so blatantly obvious, right? Why hasn’t the government stepped in and said, you cannot do this?


David Mitchell  11:10

Apparently, I’m not a lawyer, apparently, unless they get on the phone and say, we’re going to move our prices 15% all at once and talk to each other about it. They are allowed to do shadow pricing under our current law, and they’re allowed to see what the other one is doing and then just match the price. So long as they don’t talk about it. You can see what they’re doing. It’s obvious, but under law, if they don’t talk to each other and collude, it’s a harder case to prove. That’s my understanding. I’m not a lawyer, to say, however, that the government isn’t doing anything about it. You have to put one word behind it and that is yet because there are plenty of bills in Congress that would tackle high drug prices. And would allow, for example, Medicare to negotiate directly with the drug companies, including the insulin companies for lower prices. And there are bills to encourage the development of more generic and biosimilar drives that would provide additional competition that would also lower prices. So there is a recognition that this is a problem. But as with every one of the drugs we’re fighting for lower prices for enough has not been done yet. We have much more work to do. The fact is in our system, drives are supposed to get a period of time to make a lot of money when a new drug comes to market and then we introduce competition through generics and biosimilars to make prices go down. Insulin is the exact opposite. We introduce these three drugs and instead of prices going down because of competition, they just continue to go up. And it’s because of the abuses of these companies engaging regulators recognize it And I believe that within the next couple of years, we will succeed in making insulin look like the more normal model of high prices end and prices go down.


Stacey Simms  13:12

One of the things that I think is really interesting in this report are the personal stories, because it’s not just numbers, which are great and useful information. But there are faces and names of people who have rationed insulin who would talk about the struggle to afford it. And Lauren, I mentioned that you live with Type One Diabetes and you have for more than 20 years, can you talk about your experiences and of the people that you know as well because I know you have to know people who’ve really been in tough spots.


Lauren Stanford  13:39

Yeah, and I always say that I am definitely one of the lucky ones because I’ve always had help and support with paying for my insulin and I’ve had my parents to fall back on but especially through my work. At p for ad I’ve heard stories about I were talking with a patient Yesterday who has to sometimes not pay your electricity bill so that she can afford her insulin every month? And I just hear so many stories like that every day and it’s awful. And I mean, Stacy, you know, in the community, I think there’s been, I want to say a isn’t he? We don’t. There’s been multiple people who have passed away, I think five in the last year from rationing insulin, and it’s just incredible that this can happen in America. I can’t believe it. And like I said, I talked to people every day that are rationing their insulin, and it’s just outrageous and heartbreaking. And like we say to legislators, when we’re on the hilar we hear in our stories, like insulin isn’t optional for us and rationing isn’t an option at all or it shouldn’t be an option that people have to do


Stacey Simms  14:48

something to do. I think one of the ways in which my eyes have been opened in the last few years is you know, when when we’re fortunate like you and I Lauren to have insurance, right, right go and I get my supply and my insurance pays for it and it’s 25 bucks for me it’s no big deal here and there, but then there was a time where we were one bottle short, and they said okay $300 Yeah, that one vial of insulin right you think you think who is paying these prices? Right? It seems like well everybody I know has insurance. So even though the list price is $300 are people really paying that and you come to find out and correct me if I’m wrong here. The system is so complicated that even if you have insurance, sometimes you are paying list price you’re paying different prices is that something that you found as well


Lauren Stanford  15:34

was prices are really important because a there are people who are uninsured and be when you’re on a high deductible plan, you’re paying lowest prices until you meet your deductible. So if you have a $5,000 deductible, then you are paying those lowest prices until you hit that 5000 marks and you know how many bottles of insulin someone may need in the first month of the year. I mean, that could be pretty close to five thousand dollars and a lot of people don’t have that


David Mitchell  16:02

out of pocket. So well and I would add that in some plans, insurance plans, even after you meet the deductible, you will have a co payment or coinsurance and frequently that’s based on list price. That’s certainly true in Medicare. You pay all of your out of pockets based on list price. So list price really matters. And I think it is somewhere in the range of 65% of people who pay for some or all of their medications through the year based on with price.


Stacey Simms  16:41

David, you mentioned earlier, some solutions. Some you said yet. I really liked that. When you said there’s this is you know, there’s not solutions yet. Can you talk a little bit about some of the things that Congress is considering and also you mentioned a couple of them but help people who are listening Try to make a difference. am I calling up my representative and saying vote on this? am I writing letters? What can we do?


David Mitchell  17:07

Well, you can come to patients for affordable and share your story with us because we will see to it that the story gets put to work making the case for why this problem needs to be addressed. And then if you’re if they’re interested, we’ll be in touch after they leave their story and not for money because we don’t ask patients for money, but to let them know of times that they can call their right their member of Congress or state legislator to speak up for reforms. What are some of the reforms? There is a bill in Congress right now and it may be voted on in coming weeks, called HR three, which is a very comprehensive bill in the House of Representatives that allow Medicare to negotiate over drug prices, and was set as a cap a number that is no high Or than 120% of what six other wealthy nations paid for their drugs. This would lower prices in this country dramatically, because we pay two to three times what other countries pay for their drives. HR three has other good features would cap out of pockets for people on Medicare, it would include inflation caps, so their prices can’t be raised more than inflation. year over year. There’s a bill in the Senate that is bipartisan, being championed by Senators Grassley and why didn’t that would have inflation caps, again, making sure that drug makers can’t price gouge by capping increases year over year at the rate of inflation. And the Trump administration has thrown its support behind the senate bill and the Trump administration may be about to bring forward April causal only covering Part B drugs. Those are drugs administered by doctors and nurses in hospitals or doctors offices that would use reference pricing international reference pricing to literally lower the price of Part B drugs to small sliver of drugs. It’s only a pilot program, but it’s very significant that the administration has brought this idea forward. So there are a number of proposals that are floating around. There are a number of other dynamics in play right now. And I’m laughing It’s not funny, but there is a lot of obviously political energy being sucked out of the room by the impeachment process and the partisanship that exists, but I can tell you for sure that if Democrats and Republicans Both in Congress and in the White House could get a deal on drug pricing, they would all really like it. Because there’s so much anger and energy around this issue. They want to go home and campaign on having done something. So we are trying to leverage that political energy to see if we can get something done. Before we get too deep into the election year in 2021, it will become increasingly difficult. Yeah, that


Stacey Simms  20:25

makes a lot of sense. It really does. I’m curious, and I don’t want to be devil’s advocate here. But and I know there’s a lot of hope. And there’s a lot of energy, as you say, but I’m trying to think of a time where we actually made progress on medical pricing, and things like that. And I mean progress, where prices came down and access improved in the last generation or so. Not to say it can’t happen now. But has it happened have we had success in any of these things?


David Mitchell  20:55

know we actually have the most expensive health care system in the world. Some people think we have the best health care system in the world. But we don’t actually, we have the most expensive health care system in the world, other countries have found a way not only to pay less for their drugs, but to pay less for all of the elements of health care, and still have better health outcomes, longer life expectancy. We have a system that is built in many ways, not only the drug pricing system, but the whole system is in many ways built to benefit the people who make money on it more than benefit the people who is supposed to serve. So we have hope, and drug pricing because 90% of Americans say they want Congress to do something about it. Democrats, Republicans and independence, there is an enormous energy. It’s the only reason that there’s hope because pharmaceutical industry is probably spending about a billion dollars a year to fight anything that would lower drug prices. And the amount of money that our side has, is dwarfed by that billion dollars. But what they don’t have and we do is a very angry electorate, demanding that the people who they send to Washington and state capitals do something. That’s what gives us hope. And that’s why having people speak out is so important.


Stacey Simms  22:27

Lauren, let me ask you, you have been at patients for affordable drugs for not not too long. A couple months now. Are you? Okay, are you more hopeful than when you walked in the door?


Lauren Stanford  22:38

Ah, definitely. I don’t know if that’s because of the political timing, but I can tell you what, these people if anyone’s going to get it done. It’s this group and our advocates. We have strong voices and to echo what David said before something that we have that pharma and the pharmaceuticals don’t have are these compelling patient stories and I think we’re doing a really good job of making sure they’re heard on the hill and that something needs to change. And I’m definitely hopeful that something is on the horizon, there is not a more deserving cause I think then lowering drug prices so that people can afford to live. So I’m very hopeful.


Stacey Simms  23:19

Thank you both so much for spending some time with me. We will link up the full report, you know, as we have in the past and information, how people can get in touch and share their stories, but I really appreciate it and thanks for fighting the good fight.


David Mitchell  23:31

Thank you, Stacey very, very much. Thank


Unknown Speaker  23:33



Stacey Simms  23:34

information on everything they talked about at diabetes connections. com, click on the homepage to learn more about patients for affordable drugs, the legislation that they talked about a link up some insulin for all hashtag stuff as well some other resources that are out there. And of course, I will also link up to spare heroes that I talked about at the very beginning of the episode. I know Valentine’s Day is just about here as this episode airs. It’s tomorrow but it is Not too late. And of course, the sparrows initiative will continue for a few weeks after Valentine’s Day as well. So please, if you can take part back next week with our longer interview episodes, those drop on Tuesday, and I’m going to be talking to the guys behind the new book that’s coming out. They have a podcast to mastering diabetes. And I don’t know if you’ve seen these guys, their claim to fame, their big trademark is they’re like, eat 500 carbs of fruit. And I had to talk to them, because it could not possibly be that simple. Of course, it was not. But they really were fun to talk to. It was an interesting conversation. It didn’t go quite the way I thought, because sometimes there’s a lot of snake oil out there. This is not that they are the real deal. They are the real different deal. But it was great to talk to. That’s on Tuesday. And then next Thursday, we will have another minisode and that will not be an interview episode as I just did. And that’ll be back to just me talking about one topic for 10 years. 15 minutes. I love doing these. There’s so much fun. I’ve learned a lot already in just the last couple of weeks and I hope you’re enjoying them too. If you have a topic that you’d like me to talk about our question you’d like answered, please let me know Stacey at diabetes connections. com or you can just go ahead and post in the Facebook group. I have so many fun interviews lined up. I’m so excited for the weeks to come. But I always want to listen to you and deliver what you would like to hear. So if you got something, please please please let me know. All right, I am Stacey Simms. I will see you back here on Tuesday. Until then, be kind to yourself.


Unknown Speaker  25:42

Diabetes Connections is a production of Stacey Sims media. All rights reserved. All rounds avenged


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