‘Valuing our life’: KC woman with diabetes implores Congress to act on insulin cost

Published: Aug. 21, 2022 at 10:42 PM CDT|Updated: Aug. 22, 2022 at 7:32 AM CDT
Email This Link
Share on Pinterest
Share on LinkedIn

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (KCTV) --- Hattie Saltzman was diagnosed with diabetes when she was 16 years old. She’s 25 now, but she says living with type-1 diabetes is difficult. Insulin keeps her alive. But at various times in her life, she couldn’t afford the medication. She’s borrowed from her father, was given someone else’s, and has rationed dosage trying to get by. Those tactics landed her in a hospital Emergency Room.

To say she’s frustrated with the recent senate action blocking a $35 cap on insulin prices is an understatement.

“You either value our lives or you don’t,” said Saltzman.”And making insulin affordable and accessible for everyone--that is valuing our life.”

Hattie was the focus of a KCTV5 investigation in 2019. We talked with her again after the recent legislative action. In the years between the reports, Hattie has been working to bring attention to the plight of those with diabetes. She’s written articles and letters to lawmakers and appeared on national news. She says not a lot has changed in those years.

Hattie’s story

Everything came crashing down for Hattie in 2017. She was no longer covered under her parents’ insurance and has secured her own, high-deductible policy. When she went to pick up insulin from the pharmacy, she was shocked.

“They told me that for the month supply, it’s going to be $500 to $600 for two vials of insulin,” said Saltzman. “I left the pharmacy that day without purchasing any insulin, and the pharmacist looked so sad for me. She was so sad.”

She managed the best she could. Her father also has diabetes. He shared his supply with Hatte, but it wasn’t enough. She ended up in the Emergency Room.

“I knew that I had adequate coverage for an ER visit.” Said Hattie. “I could do the ER, but I couldn’t do insulin.”

The treatment was simple: the doctor gave her a prescription for insulin. But Hattie couldn’t afford it.

“They just completely missed the point,” said Hattie. “My insurance sent me a letter A few weeks later saying, ‘Hey, we have a diabetic educator on staff if you need assistance figuring out how to better take care of yourself.’ And like, I know how to take care of myself. I don’t have access to the medication.”

Hattie was able to get more insulin from the family of a young woman who died from cystic fibrosis. The woman was also a diabetic and after her death, the family gave Hattie her supplies.

“It was the most perfect gift,” said Hattie. “I don’t know what I would have done for the rest of the year.”

In the years that followed, Hattie had better insurance and would help others in crisis. “It’s not legal, but all of us look out for each other.”

Now, she says others need to look out for diabetics.

Facts and Figures

The CDC estimates 34 million people in the U.S. have diabetes. Of those, 1.6 million have type-1 diabetes—meaning diet and exercise can never solve the root of their disease. It’s the seventh leading cause of death in the nation. Twenty-five percent of diabetics do what Hattie did—ration insulin because they can’t afford it.

That’s why Hattie says she was angry, but not surprised when senators blocked the insulin cap.

“They behaved exactly the way I expected them to,” said Hattie. “But it takes so much effort to even get this issue on their plate and then they toss it out. That’s insulting.”

The senators from Kansas and Missouri are all Republicans. Roger “Doc” Marshall and Jerry Moran from Kansas voted to block the cap, as did Roy Blunt of Missouri. Josh Hawley was among seven Republicans who joined with Democrats in voting for the cap, but it still fell short of the 60 needed to keep it.

We asked each of them for a statement about their vote.

Senator Hawley’s spokesperson gave this response:

“Since taking office, Senator Hawley has worked to lower the cost of prescription drugs Missourians depend on. And he will continue to do so.”

Senators Blunt and Moran declined to give a statement, but Moran indicated he voted against it because of parliamentary concerns.

Senator Marshall’s office provided this statement:

“As a physician who practiced medicine for 25 years, Senator Marshall understands the health care industry and wants to find common sense solutions to drug pricing. Unfortunately, the Democrats’ proposal to cap insulin at $35 shifts costs elsewhere rather than addressing the real problem of drug pricing middlemen pocketing the savings that they negotiate. Senator Marshall’s Lower Costs, More Cures Act addresses this very issue, and he will keep fighting to help diabetics have access to better and less expensive medicine.”

Startling Comparison

Insulin was discovered in 1921. Three men, Dr. Frederick Banting, Charles Best and Dr. James Collip all had their names attached to the patent. Their original intellectual property righters were sold for three dollars in Canadian money—a dollar for each of them. They sold the patent to the University of Toronto reportedly saying that insulin didn’t belong to them, it belonged to the world. They wanted everyone who needed it to have it.

Just 20 years ago, insulin was $20/vial. When you factor inflation, that price today should be $32.94. but today in the U.S., a vial costs $250 with no solutions in sight. That’s the highest price of any country in the world. In Canada, the price is $35/vial and in Mexico, it’s less than $50.

Lawmakers have addressed the cost for people on Medicare—it is now capped at $35.