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Congressional Study Highlights The High Costs Of Oregon Diabetes Medications

<p>A patient holds a vial of insulin during a news conference outside the Olde Walkersville Pharmacy, Sunday, July 28, 2019, in Windsor, Ont. </p>

Carlos Osorio

A patient holds a vial of insulin during a news conference outside the Olde Walkersville Pharmacy, Sunday, July 28, 2019, in Windsor, Ont.

Diabetes medications in Oregon cost twice as much as in Canada – and more than four times as much as in Australia – according to a new report for Congress from the House Oversight and Reform Committee. It compares the prices for 50 brand-name diabetes drugs in Oregon to those in other developed countries. It found Medicare beneficiaries in Oregon pay more than $1,000 more per year for insulin.

Dr. Elizabeth Stephens with Providence Portland said it’s distressing that insulin’s been around for decades, but the government hasn’t figured out how to make it affordable.

“If people with diabetes do not get insulin, they will die," Stephens said. "The cost increases in insulin is absolutely appalling.”

Democrats in Oregon's congressional delegation, such as Rep. Suzanne Bonamici and Sen. Ron Wyden, are supporting the " Lower Drug Costs Now Act." It would allow the federal government to negotiate for lower insulin prices for Medicare patients.

“No one should have to jeopardize their health or worry about affording food because of exorbitant prices for insulin,” said Bonamici. “Companies are charging much more for these critical drugs in the U.S. than abroad, hurting seniors and families in Northwest Oregon and across the country. I support the "Lower Drug Costs Now Act" to stop these disparities and allow Medicare to negotiate for better prices.”

The director of Oregon AARP, Ruby Haughton-Pitts, said that the average Social Security benefit is about $1,400 a month.

"And we know nearly one-third of people 65 and older rely on this earned benefit for most or all of their income,” she said.

“Older adults take an average of 4.5 prescription medications a month. When you do the math, it’s clearly unsustainable. For example, the diabetes medication Lantus has gone from $2,907 in 2012 to $4,702 in 2017. This impacts the thousands of older adults with diabetes to the point where we know some people skip medication – which can land them in the emergency room or hospital," Haughton-Pitts said. 

, which represents the country’s large biopharmaceutical research companies, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

But its website said that unlike foreign governments, which set prices and restrict coverage as a condition of entering the market, the United States relies on a competitive marketplace to control costs and provide access to medicines.

Copyright 2019 Oregon Public Broadcasting

Kristian Foden-Vencil is a reporter and producer for Oregon Public Broadcasting. He specializes in health care, business, politics, law and public safety.