Last week, our editor spoke at a rally co-sponsored by T1International and Healthcare Voter. Held outside the corporate headquarters of pharma company Eli Lilly and Company, the rally protested the skyrocketing cost of insulin. A vial of insulin that cost Lilly and other companies about $5 to manufacture has increased in price more than 1,000% in recent years, and now is priced as high $300. As a result, one in four U.S. persons with Type 1 diabetes reports is forced to ration their insulin.
The rally’s lead speakers were persons affected by that price-gouging. Under the T1International banner, they are leading a powerful movement. Our editor’s speech lifting up their transformative activism, and the historical significance of their leadership, is published here. To watch a video of the demonstration, click here.
On May 28, 1863, thousands of people gathered on the Boston Common to watch the first-ever regiment of African American troops march off to battle in the Civil War. Each spectator was handed a card. On the card read a famous line of poetry from Lord Byron: “Those who would be free must themselves strike the first blow.”
In my day job at Indiana University McKinney School of Law, I have the privilege of teaching about the history of human rights movements. So I can tell you that, when it comes to successful human rights movements, that line of poetry is always true: Winning movements are led by those who directly experience the injustice.
Frederick Douglass, who was present in Boston that day when his sons and other young African Americans marched off to battle, was one of many former slaves who helped lead the abolition movement.
Women were the leaders of the suffrage movement. African Americans led the civil rights movement. Working people led the labor movement.
As we can see here today, this is true for the drug pricing movement as well. Those who are most harmed by this injustice are leading the fight to reverse it.
Now, it would be great to have a president and Congress who support lower insulin prices and take real action to make a change. And it is always good to have policy and medical experts on the team pushing for reform.
But make no mistake: the leader of this movement is Taya Keeler, who lost all the vision in her left eye and has compromised sight in her right, along with kidney disease and nerve damage, all because of complications caused by insufficient insulin dosages. The leader is Sa’Ra Skipper, whose sister, also Type 1, nearly died because she limited her insulin dose so that Sa’Ra could have enough. The leader is Nicole Smith-Holt, whose son Alec died when he rationed the insulin he could not afford. (Note: All of these persons spoke at the rally.)
Taya Keeler Speaks in Front of Eli Lilly Headquarters (Photo credit: Healthcare Voter)
They are our leaders, along with the millions of others who are directly impacted by insulin price gouging, all coming together as T1International advocates.
If you are affected by insulin price gouging, I urge you to go to the T1International website, www.t1international.com, to see how you can join these leaders and yourself become a part of this movement.
Because history has a lesson for us here: This is a movement that is going to win.
We know this is true, because patients have taken on Big Pharma before—and won. The HIV/AIDS treatment movement of the turn of the century was led by some of the most marginalized people on the planet. But they were also passionate and determined, because they were patients who made it clear to the world that they were fighting for their lives. As one HIV-positive activist said at a protest, “You are denying me drugs. Look me in the face and tell me to die.”
Those patients ratcheted up the public pressure on pharma companies and the governments that had been protecting them. As human rights scholars would put it, they “named and shamed their oppressors-- and they did it over and over and over. It took years of persistence, but eventually, the companies and the governments cracked. Antiretroviral drug prices plummeted over 90% nearly overnight, saving millions of lives.
Now, the corporation we are gathered in front of today is not going to happily surrender their insulin windfall profits. They have made billions of dollars from insulin price-gouging, and they are spending millions of those dollars now on lobbyists and political campaign donations and PR campaigns. They are dead set on maintaining the flow of obscenely high insulin profits.
But the corporate millions won’t be enough. History tells us that they can’t match the power present here today and across the world:
They can’t match the power of a movement that is led by people directly impacted.
They can’t match the power of a movement that is morally right.
And they can’t match the power of a movement that is on the winning side of history.
Faith and Healthcare Notes
Support for Medicare for All Across the Country—Literally. Facing the challenges of accessing hospitals and physicians, and often working in jobs without good health insurance, 55% of rural Americans support Medicare for All, according to this Harvard/Harris poll from last month.
Mental Health Advocates to 2020 Candidates: Give Us Specifics. A new coalition of mental health advocates, including the National Alliance on Mental Illness and the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, are coming together to demand that the 2020 Presidential candidates commit to explicit plans to address a crisis that affects millions, and led to well over 100,000 Americans dying from suicide or drug overdose in 2017. “We don’t need new reports. We don’t need white papers. We need political will,” said Rep. Patrick Kennedy (D-R.I.), a co-chair of the new initiative.
Nurses’ Door-to-Door Advocacy for Medicare for All. The tireless advocacy by members of National Nurses United, featured in Faith in Healthcare’s interview with its president Zenei Cortez last month, was also covered in the New York Times earlier this month.