Focus on Access: Senator Patty Murray (D-WA), Ranking Member of the Senate HELP Committee
People who take insulin require consistently affordable and predictable sources of insulin at all times. If you or a loved one are struggling to afford or access insulin, click here.
Can you explain the role of the Senate HELP committee? What issues do you cover?
HELP stands for Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions—we cover issues people across the country deal with every day, like how to get the health care they need, how to get a quality education, how to make sure everyone feels safe at work, and no one feels like they have to choose between their paycheck and their family, and how to help people stay financially secure in old age.
In our work, we cover a lot of issues people with diabetes face. For example, I’ve been fighting to defend protections for people with pre-existing conditions, like diabetes, and to look for ways to bring down prices for prescription drugs—like insulin.
Why did you decide to tackle the issue of insulin pricing?
I’ve heard from families across Washington state who are worried about high insulin costs, and whether they’ll have to choose between putting food on the table and paying for a drug they need to live. I’d actually say this is the number one issue that comes up when people stop me at the grocery store, and I know my colleagues in other states are hearing about this back home too.
Some of the stories are incredibly concerning — I’ve heard from a college student who rationed insulin by sharing with his roommate, and heard the story of a patient who put off taking insulin for over a month and considered eating cat food to get protein and delay injection costs. And I know other patients, students, parents, workers, retirees, and so many more people across the country are facing similar hard choices — and that’s simply unacceptable. No one should be forced to put their health at risk or ration the drugs they need to make ends meet.
Editor’s Note: In February 2019, a group of U.S. Senators led by Patty Murray (D-WA) sent letters to executives at the “Big Three” insulin manufacturers — Eli Lilly, Novo Nordisk, and Sanofi — demanding information about the rising prices of insulin in the United States.
What do you see as the biggest problem or problems causing high insulin prices and limiting insulin access in the United States?
One of the big issues is that there has been no generic version of insulin. Most of the drugs we take are generics, but most of the money we spend on drugs is on brand name drugs which are more expensive — like insulin which is only available from three manufacturers. Having a generic competitor to them would help provide a cheaper option for many patients, and bring insulin prices down for everyone.
Have the insulin manufacturers replied to your letters?
Yes, most of the companies have already responded or let us know they intend to respond. I’m hopeful they realize this is an urgent issue for families across the country, and this will be the beginning of a longer conversation to help Congress understand why insulin has gotten so hard to afford, and what we can do to change that.
What are next steps after you get responses from the manufacturers?
I’m glad the companies most important to hear from to understand and address skyrocketing insulin prices are responding to our request, but this is just a start when it comes to holding them accountable and making sure families can afford lifesaving drugs like insulin. I also think it’s important we hear from other members of the health care system about how to tackle this as well, so I’ll be looking at how to do that.
Perhaps most importantly, I think we need to make sure the people who need insulin are heard as well. So I’ll also be looking for opportunities to lift up the voices of families and to share their stories about this.
Beyond addressing insulin prices, what else are you working on in Congress to help people with diabetes?
I recently introduced a bipartisan bill with Senator Alexander, my Republican counterpart on the HELP Committee, to provide five years of stable funding for programs that help patients across the country — like community health centers which help millions of people get care close to home, the Special Diabetes Program at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) which supports research at NIH specifically on the treatment and management of Type I diabetes, and the Special Diabetes Program for Indians which helps Indian health facilities provide diabetes management and prevention services. These programs have a history of bipartisan support, and I look forward to working with Senator Alexander to continue that by getting our bill signed into law.
What would you tell readers to do if they want to get involved with advocacy around insulin access?
When I first got into politics to fight for my kids’ pre-k program, a politician told me I couldn’t make a difference because I was “just a mom in tennis shoes.” Well, I went home, reached out to a bunch of other moms and dads in tennis shoes, and wouldn’t you know it? We proved him wrong and saved that program.
So the advice I would give to your readers is that when someone tells you that you can’t make a difference, it’s probably because they are afraid you will. But you shouldn’t be afraid, instead you should stand up and speak out. Share your story, whether that means writing your congressperson a letter, calling their office, showing up at their town hall, or even tweeting at them. Tell them about the issues that are important to you, and what the policies they are working on mean in your family’s everyday life.
Focus on Access Editorial Disclosure: The position presented above is solely that of the author. Other than fact-checking and formatting, Beyond Type 1 has not edited the content of this post.