I-TEAM: The high cost of drugs

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DECATUR, Ill. (WAND) – At 24 Chris Starkey has been taking insulin for his diabetes since right before his fifth birthday.  The insulin he is using is an inhalable insulin called Afreeza. For Chris, Afreeza is simple and easy to use without uncomfortable injections.

“When you don’t have to lift-up your shirt and grab a syringe and give yourself a shot, that’s a nice thing,” Chris told the WAND I-TEAM.

But Chris faces a big problem.  His insurance company won’t pay for Afreeza. 

“They have deemed that this medication is not medically necessary,” he said.

Mannkind Corporation, the maker of Afreeza is giving Chris the inhalable insulin for free while he appeals his insurance company’s decision.  Without Mannkind’s help Chris, a college student, could not afford Afreeza on his own.  According to Chris the cost would be around $2,700 a month, more than $32,000 a year.

While Chris is being helped by Mannkind most people are on their own as the price of prescription drugs climb.  Sometimes without any reasonable explanation.

“What’s happening is these drug companies are raising prices of things that have been on the market for decades,” said U.S. Senator Dick Durbin, (D) Illinois.  “I just had a family in with a child who is diabetic.  They’re talking to me about the dramatic increase in the cost of insulin which is necessary for this child to live.”

Congress recently put drug makers on the hot seat over rising pharmaceutical prices during a series of hearings.  Including the makers of the Epipen which has had dramatic increases in prices in recent years.

The city of Rockford, Illinois is suing the maker of a drug used to stop infant spasms.  In 2001, the drug was selling for about $40 a vial.  According to the federal lawsuit Rockford, which self-insures its government workers, claims they were charged more than $54,000 for the same vial.  A cost to taxpayers of nearly $500,000 a year.

In March, Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan announced her office is joining in an antitrust lawsuit against a half dozen generic drugs makers contending they coordinated schemes to fix prices and to prevent competition in various markets.

Earlier this month generic drug maker Perrigo confirmed "search warrants were executed at the company's corporate offices associated with an ongoing investigation by the U.S. Department of Justice Antitrust Division related to drug pricing in the pharmaceutical industry."  The company says it is cooperating.

The raid gives a glimpse into the Justice Departments ongoing attempts to prove collusion among various drug makers to set artificially high prices.

Senator Durbin suggests a number of solutions to high drug prices need to be considered.

“We need some help from the doctors when it comes to prescribing.  Not just to take the drug that’s on the commercial you see on television,” Durbin stated.  “But to do what’s best for the patient and that includes finding something affordable.”

Several lawmakers are suggesting U.S. citizens should be able to purchase their drugs from Canada where prices are often considerably lower for the same product sold in the U.S.

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