Tampa doctor lost brother to diabetes, calls insulin price cut “game changer”

HILLSBOROUGH COUNTY, Florida — Dr. Traci Thompson doesn’t have diabetes, but the disease has been a part of her life for nearly a decade.

“It really is a family affair,” she said. “This July will mark the 10-year anniversary of my younger brother’s death from complications from diabetes at the age of 35.”

According to Thompson, his brother – Billy Thompson Jr. – never managed to secure a steady supply of life-saving insulin.

“He, unfortunately, had no health insurance – he couldn’t guarantee health insurance – so he was jumping from doctor to doctor trying to get his insulin,” she said.

Dr. Thompson knows his brother wasn’t and isn’t alone.

According to a 2018 survey, the price of a vial of insulin in the US was about ten times higher than the cost of a vial in many other developed countries.

Thompson, medical director of Humana Healthy Horizons in Florida, opened a community clinic near the intersection of Nebraska Ave. with Hanna Ave. last year to serve less fortunate people.

She says her time at the non-profit clinic, Dr. Traci’s House, showed her that insulin is still out of reach for many Tampa Bay families.

“It’s a daily occurrence,” she said. “I mean, there are families who have to think, ‘Well, how much is this going to cost’.”

However, Dr. Thompson was more hopeful and finally had reason to celebrate on Wednesday.

Drugmaker Eli Lilly announced it is cutting its insulin prices by 70% and expanding a program to limit a patient’s out-of-pocket insulin costs to $35 a month, with or without insurance.

“This is a game changer. I mean, there are millions of people across the country who, you know, forgo getting insulin or taking their prescribed insulin because they can’t afford it,” said Dr. Thompson. of using medicines that people can afford is going to be a game changer in terms of how we deal with diabetes.”

The Doctor. Henry Rodriguez, clinical director of USF’s prestigious Center for Diabetes and Endocrinology, agrees with that assessment.

“It’s a big, big announcement,” he said on Wednesday. “For someone with type 1 diabetes, they don’t have a choice. It’s take the insulin or – not to be melodramatic about it – or die.

The Doctor. Rodrigue believes the announcement will make a difference in Tampa Bay and across Florida, where 2.1 million people are diagnosed with diabetes.

“The most affected individuals are the most vulnerable. Those who, you know, are on the poverty line or honestly even above it,” he said. “They have to make the decision: ‘Am I going to, you know, pay the rent? Am I going to, you know, pay for the food? Or will I pay for the insulin?’”

Dr. Rodriguez – whose center serves as a regional epicenter for diabetes treatment, research and education – can’t say for sure, but said he’s “more hopeful than not” that other drugmakers will follow Eli Lilly’s lead and lower the price. of insulin.

Dr. Thompson, for her part, hopes that will be so, so that more families don’t have to go through what hers went through almost ten years ago.

“He was always with me. He was my little brother,” she said. “I feel like, you know, when he passed away, like, I lost a child.”

Tampa doctor lost brother to diabetes, calls insulin price cut “game changer”

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