Earlier this afternoon, I participated in a round table discussion with Wisconsin Senate candidate Sarah Godlewski and three other Wisconsin residents. The focus of the discussion was prescription drug costs, but the conversation inevitably touched on many other aspects of healthcare and healthcare policy. As the event wasn't recorded, televised, streamed, or otherwise public, I'm going to refrain from sharing any personal information shared by the other participants, but I'll do my best to give a complete overview of the conversation.
From just our initial introductions, it was clear that each participant's life was significantly impacted by the high costs of prescription drugs, each in their own, unique way, but each with a common cause. According to a 2021 report from the RAND corporation, U.S. prescription drug prices are more than 250% higher overall than those of 32 other countries. Since 1999, the cost of one brand of insulin increased by more than 1,000%, a medication 7.4 million diabetics depend on to survive, forcing some to ration their insulin supply to survive. The Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services reported prescription drugs cost U.S. citizens $348 billion in 2020 alone, an increase of more than 12,000% since 1960. Many Americans are faced with a choice between critical, sometimes life-saving, prescription drugs or rent, medication or food, healthcare or the car payment.
Meanwhile, in 2020, pharmaceutical companies reported $1.27 trillion in global revenue.
Each participant's story reflected a stark reality, one in which access to health insurance can decide whether somebody lives or dies. Godlewski expressed understanding, frustration, and a commitment to tackle the problem head on. As the conversation progressed, we also discussed overall quality of life, and how even that can be negatively impacted by drug costs, whether it's trying to navigate complex insurance systems, spending hours, weeks, or months to get a medication or procedure approved or covered, or being forced to seek outside assistance to pay for medication.
Prescription drug costs were the expressed focus of the afternoon, so we didn't delve too deeply into the wider issues of healthcare and health insurance, but insurance, in one form or another, played prominently in each participant's story. Godlewski affirmed her belief that lowering prescription drug costs is a critical first step in addressing access to healthcare, especially where pharmaceutical companies received government funding for drug research and development. Everyone in the room agreed; we cannot continue to prioritize profits over peoples' lives.