In 1921, Canadian researchers Drs. Frederick Banting, Charles Best, J.J.R. Macleod, and J.B. Collip worked together to develop the process for extracting insulin, and subsequently led it to mass production to save the lives of children who were, quite literally, wasting away. Diabetes at the time was a death sentence, and they knew that something had to be done to save these young lives.
Profit was never the motivation of these researchers. They knew that the well-being and longevity of people with diabetes was more important than financial gain. If you want to read a fascinating story of how the miracle of insulin came about, I recommend the books Breakthrough by Thea Cooper and Arthur Ainsberg and The Discovery of Insulin by Michael Bliss.
Today, we often find ourselves stalled at the intersection of innovation and greed in the treatment of diabetes. Recently, insulin makers have come under fire for the costs that they charge for insulin. These companies applaud themselves for their record-breaking profits, reward their investors, and in turn establish themselves as beneficiaries of the very community that they have been entrusted by Drs. Banting, Best, Macleod, and Collip to keep well.
Insurance companies are guilty of putting business before healthy people as well. Preferred vendors and formularies influenced by backdoor business deals have long been in place to help insurance companies turn a profit. Recently, these insurance companies have received heated criticism for limiting access to alternative therapies due to these “preferred status” deals. This has resulted in the patient community feeling as if it is not the physician who is helping them make decisions about their diabetes, but rather the insurance companies.
People with diabetes work hard to find the right combination of therapies that lead to success, but diabetes is a highly customizable disease, so what works for one person may or may not work for another. A lot of money, time, and effort is spent toward better health outcomes, and to defending the right to receive the care that best works for each individual situation. And it is a right. With the implementation of the Affordable Care Act, and its upheld constitutionality by the United States Supreme Court, people with diabetes have a right to not be discriminated against because of their pre-existing condition.
The decisions for how we live well with diabetes, and what therapies and technologies we need to do that, should be made between the person with diabetes and their trusted health care professionals. Insurance should be a partner in achieving these goals, not a barrier. In order to do that, we must give preferential treatment to the patient at the center of business and health care, hold those entities accountable who get it wrong, and reward those who get it right.
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