Kenmore woman advocates for better drug pricing at SOTU

Rep. Suzan DelBene and Dana VanBuecken discuss drug pricing prior to the State of the Union address.

Hours leading up to President Donald Trump’s State of the Union (SOTU) address on Feb. 4, U.S. Rep. Suzan DelBene and her guest, Dana VanBuecken, sat down to discuss the ongoing drug pricing issue many Americans face.

Like 1.25 million Americans, VanBuecken has Type 1 diabetes — an autoimmune disease that requires a hormone called insulin in order to survive. And just like 25 percent of all people with Type 1, the Kenmore resident has resorted to insulin rationing due to skyrocketing prices.

“When it comes to the end of the month and I have say, 50 units of insulin left, I will not eat any carbohydrates. In some cases, I have to limit my intake pretty considerably so that I can stretch that insulin because, for me, I would rather be hungry than have high blood sugar and face those long-term consequences of diabetes,” VanBuecken explained.

High glucose levels lead to diabetic complications, which include blindness, nerve damage, kidney damage and heart disease. Another complication is diabetic ketoacidosis — toxin buildup in the body, which can result in death.

Van Buecken wears her necklace that has pictures of diabetics who died from insulin rationing. Photo courtesy of Suzan DelBene

Van Buecken wears her necklace that has pictures of diabetics who died from insulin rationing. Photo courtesy of Suzan DelBene

Since 2017, there have been 10 reported diabetic deaths nationwide due to insulin rationing.

What costs insulin manufacturers $4 to make is costing patients up to $300 to purchase per vial; diabetics use about two to four vials per month.

“My own endocrinologist is currently recommending that people drive up to Canada for their insulin,” VanBuecken said. “There is a crisis in our country when we are sending our citizens across the border to obtain essential, life-saving medication.”

DelBene (WA-01) supports the HR-3 Act, or the Lower Drug Costs Now Act, which was passed by the House of Representatives on Dec. 12, 2019.

She described how the bill would permit the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services to negotiate drug pricing that would benefit both Medicare patients and those with private insurance, while placing a $2,000 price cap for Medicare patients on out-of-pocket prescription drug prices.

“We know in other countries people are paying much less for their prescription drugs. And this legislation actually comes up with an average based on other countries, most similar to the United States so that we make sure that our prices are not outrageously higher than those overseas,” DelBene said.

In addition, DelBene said, “we want to make sure that this is an issue we address for all types of drugs that people have and that it’s not just in one state, but it’s across the country.”

Trump has brought up wanting to lower prescription drug prices since he first entered office in 2016. During his SOTU address, the president said he was “calling for bipartisan legislation that achieves the goal of dramatically lowering prescription drug prices. Get a bill to my desk, and I will sign it into law without delay.”

VanBuecken relayed that she hopes her attendance of the SOTU will bring attention to the drug pricing issue.

“I shouldn’t be here. I have four children at home with the stomach flu right now,” she said. “And I am here advocating for health care reform for lower insulin prices, because if we can’t fix this problem, I may not be here at all in the future to take care of my children.”

The Lower Drug Costs Now Act was received in the Senate on Dec. 16, 2019, and as of the Reporter’s deadline, no further action has taken place.