Fault Lines

The Cost of Living: Why US Prescription Drug Prices Are so High

Fault Lines investigates what’s behind the skyrocketing price of prescription medication in the US and the human cost.

In the United States, many people have to choose between financial insecurity or saving their own lives.
The cost of nearly every major brand name drug is on the rise and as a result, millions of Americans are having trouble paying for their prescription medication.

This includes Type 1 diabetics, for whom insulin is a life-saving drug.

“For somebody like me, it’s like the oxygen you breathe. It is like the oxygen you and I breathe, except for me, I have to pay $340 a vial for that oxygen,” says Quinn Nystrom, from T1International, a global advocacy organisation for diabetics. Nystrom is one of at least 1.2 million Americans with Type 1 diabetes, an auto-immune disease that has no cure.

Between 2012 and 2016 alone, the price of insulin nearly doubled, forcing many Americans to search for other routes to access it.

We follow a caravan of Type 1 diabetics as they cross the border into Canada, where insulin is about one-tenth of the cost of the drug in the US.

“It’s not just a bunch of people whining and crying about the price of insulin. There is a true impact,” says Nicole Smith-Holt, whose son died less than a month after ageing off her health insurance, because, she believes, he could not afford to pay for his insulin and started rationing the drug. “My family was destroyed by this. I lost my child. I will never have my son back … Ultimately, the system failed Alec.”

We made multiple interview requests to the top three insulin manufacturers, but none of them agreed to an interview. Sanofi sent a statement and included a congressional testimony by its External Affairs Executive Vice president.

We also meet Jackie Trapp who has a rare form of blood cancer called Multiple Myeloma, which doesn’t respond to traditional cancer treatments. Instead, she has to take a speciality drug to keep her cancer stable. Despite having insurance and taking advantage of multiple assistance programmes this vital drug costs her between $15,000 and $22,000 a year.

“Drugs don’t work if we can’t afford to take them,” Trapp says.

Fault Lines investigates what’s behind the skyrocketing costs of prescription medication, and how the hefty price tag is costing lives.