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Wearing a button reading, "Access to insulin is a human right," Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders (D-Vt.) joined a group of people with diabetes on a trip to Canada for affordable Insulin on July 28, 2019. The trip came just weeks after 27-year-old Josh Wilkerson died after going into a diabetic coma, following months of relying on over-the-counter insulin because he couldn't afford  $1,200 per months prescription. (Photo by Scott Eisen/Getty Images)

'Our System Kills People': 27-Year-Old Diabetic Man Latest to Die in US Amid Skyrocketing Cost of Insulin

"This is policy murder: Josh Wilkerson is dead because pharmaceutical companies sought to profit from his illness and federal regulators did nothing."

Julia Conley

The latest reports of a young diabetic American's death due to a lack of affordable insulin were met with outrage on Wednesday from Medicare for All advocates, including 2020 Democratic candidate Bernie Sanders.

Twenty-seven year old Josh Wilkerson died days after suffering a series of strokes and falling into a diabetic coma in June, the Washington Post reported this week. Following his 26th birthday, when he aged out of his stepfather's health insurance plan under the Affordable Care Act (ACA), Wilkerson had spent a year relying on over-the-counter insulin to manage his Type 1 diabetes.

Wilkerson's death was just the most recent preventable death of an American with Type 1 diabetes. Jesimya David Scherer-Radcliff died last month at the age of 21 because he couldn't afford insulin, the cost of which doubled between 2012 and 2016. Alec Smith, a 26 year old man, died of diabetic ketoacidosis in 2017, less than a month after aging out of his parents' insurance plan.

"Our system kills people," tweeted the progressive political action group Justice Democrats, which supports the campaigns of candidates who back Medicare for All.

Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) also condemned the for-profit healthcare system which has allowed insulin costs to skyrocket. Sanders led a trip to Canada last month with several diabetics to highlight the far lower cost of insulin there and to help the patients buy a supply of the medication, paying a fraction of what they would have had to pay in the United States.

In recent years, pharmacy benefit managers like CVS Health have worked "with pharmaceutical companies to lower drug prices on behalf of insurance companies, but those discounts can end up increasing out-of-pocket costs" for patients, STAT reported last year.

Although he had a steady job as a supervisor at a dog kennel that offered limited health insurance to employees, affording prescription insulin, which is far more effective than over-the-counter medicine, was impossible with Wilkerson's $16.50-per-hour wages.

Without full insurance coverage, Wilkerson's medication would have cost him nearly $1,200 per month.

Like many Type 1 diabetics, he was forced to turn to ReliOn, an over-the-counter form of insulin sold by Walmart for $25 per vial, which can take about four hours to regulate a patient's blood sugar rather than the 20 minutes it generally takes prescription insulin to work.

"This man died because of" the cheaper insulin, tweeted journalist Natalie Shure, pushing back against those who have defended its prevalence at places like Wal-Mart.

Another critic denounced Wilkerson's death as "policy murder," while a British online community for diabetes patients, Diabetes.co.uk, expressed grief over the "devastating outcomes of high insulin prices in the U.S."


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