A small group of advocates stood on the sidewalk facing Eli Lilly’s headquarters in downtown Indianapolis Monday holding neon signs asking for an explanation of skyrocketing insulin prices.
There T1International and People of Faith for Access to Medicines organized the gathering before Nicole Smith-Holt went inside to deliver a statement.
Smith-Holt lost her 26-years-old son, Alec, last year when he began rationing insulin, unable to afford each month’s supply. Since his death, she has made it a mission to address insulin insecurity.
“It’s effecting millions, and millions of people are going through the same struggle every day,” Smith-Holt says. “They’re having to make decisions on am I going to eat today? Do I have enough money to buy my insulin? Should I drop out of college because I can’t afford the tuition and my insulin?”
And it’s not just effecting younger people like her son.
"I’ve heard of grown people having to move in with their younger children,” Smith-Holt says. “We’re talking about people in their sixties and seventies who can’t afford their insulin, so they’re moving home with their kids so that they can get their insulin to stay alive.”
Out of all her questions she wants to ask Eli Lilly executives, Smith-Holt simplifies it to one remark: “Do you believe insulin is a human right?”
Eryn Ruder came with her daughter to show support for Smith-Holt.
“The fact that it’s a formula that hasn’t changed in almost three decades, but the price has increased almost 1,200 percent over the last two decades,” Ruder says. “And it’s been lock-step the three main manufacturers, when one raises their price, everyone raises their price and it’s not OK.”
The three insulin manufacturers in the United States include Eli Lilly, Sanofi and Novo Nordisk. Previous reporting has found a U.S. patient’s out-of-pocket cost for a month’s supply of Eli Lilly’s insulin, Humalog, could be more than $400.
Indianapolis resident Jason Meno is a Type 1 diabetic. He says costs for insulin have created barriers for him at times, putting his life at risk.
“The price of insulin, the main component that keeps you alive,” Meno says. “The fact that we have this big price tag on there that makes big problems like this; it’s a death sentence.”
Walmart sells a cheaper version for about $25 a vial, but advocates say it’s not the same – it is similar to insulin that was produced over a half a century ago, and slow acting.
Meno would like to see Eli Lilly to release control of some of its patents.
“If those patents were released, and we could make generic fast-acting insulin; that would be fantastic,” Meno says.
Later in the day, Smith-Holt says after reading her statement to Lilly Diabetes Vice President Mike Mason, she’s hopeful.
“He listened and he empathized with me and he acknowledges that there are problems and that what they have in place doesn’t help everybody; and what they need is something that does help everybody,” says Smith-Holt.
She feels the trip to Indianapolis was worth it and will continue advocating for the cause.
Press were not allowed into the shareholder event, but Eli Lilly did issue a statement after the shareholder meeting and Smith-Holt’s meeting with Mason.
"Engagement on this issue is very important, and demonstrations are one way to have your voice heard. It will take continued effort and commitment across the health care system to affect change, and Lilly is committed to working with others to help make it happen. Lilly has been an active participant in the insulin access dialogue for a long time, and that work will continue. In the last 18 months, we have introduced a number of initiatives to help reduce the amount people pay at the pharmacy and provide access to lower-income people with diabetes. We are committed to continuing this work."