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Gov Directs Michigan Departments To Look Into The Business Of Making Insulin

October 11, 2022

Article courtesy MIRS News, for SBAM’s Lansing Watchdog e-newsletter

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer signed an executive directive Monday asking the state departments to come up with ways to lower the cost of insulin, which could include making it.

Whitmer said the state has made medicines before and used that as her basis for looking into the creation of a state-owned manufacturer of insulin that would essentially give out the medicine to diabetics at the cost it would take to make.

“Our neighbors, family, and friends with diabetes need insulin to survive and for too long, drug companies have been jacking up prices, forcing them to make impossible choices between medication, food, rent, or other bills,” Whitmer said.

The Biologic Products Division of the Department of Public Health started making vaccines for tetanus, rabies, pertussis, diphtheria, typhoid and anthrax.  The lab also produced fractionated blood plasma until the lab was sold off by former Gov. John Engler.  The sale of the Michigan Biological Products Institute was put forward to the Michigan House in 1996 by former Rep. Don Gilmer, of Kalamazoo. 

The State Administrative Board approved a bid from BioPort Corporation to buy the laboratory for nearly $25 million in 1998.

Michigan Association of Health Plans Executive Director Dominick Pallonesaid the state got into the business of making the vaccines because there was a shortage of them and the cost was spiraling out of control.

“They gave it out at cost to the local health departments for them to administer to anybody, regardless of ability to pay,” Pallone said.

He said his group is excited to see what the state can do to produce insulin even if it turns out to be a private company, as long as the price comes down.

He said the market has been dominated by three manufactures that have continued to raise prices every year.

The American Diabetes Association data shows 912,794 people in Michigan have diabetes and those people have more medical expenses that are more than two times higher than those who do not have the disease, which is the seventh highest cause of death in the nation. 

The cost of insulin in the U.S. is about 800% more expensive than in other countries, according to the ADA.

“Access to insulin can make all the difference to the health of nearly 1 million Michiganders suffering from diabetes,” Dr. Natasha Bagdasarian said. “But high prices make it difficult for many diabetics to access the insulin they need to manage their condition.”

President Joe Bidenrecently signed the Inflation Reduction Act which would allow Medicare to negotiate the price for insulin and put a $35-per-month cap on the drug.

Sen. Curtis VanderWall (R-Ludington) passed a resolution through the Senate last week that asked Whitmer to help do something about the prices for people not on Medicaid.

“This gives us an opportunity to bypass some of the red tape and actually provide the people that use insulin at a huge reduction in cost,” VanderWall said.

He said prescription drugs needed to be reformed, but insulin was a special case because of the impact that the price was having on people.

“This is a perfect opportunity for the state to be a leader and I’m glad I’m a part of it,” VanderWall said.

Whitmer’s directive also ordered state departments to look into anything else that could be done to help reduce the cost of insulin. 

In January, the Attorney General’s office opened an investigation into drug companies raising the prices and said the companies were hiding behind a “wrongly interpreted” Michigan Consumers Protection Act.

She said the Consumer Protection Team is ready go after the companies after arguments are heard by the Michigan State Supreme Court regarding the Michigan Consumers Protection Act.

“No Michigander should forgo life-saving medicine because they cannot afford to pay the price set by drug companies,” Attorney General Dana Nessel  said. “Enough is enough.”

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