Teen Vogue confuses young readers on insulin

April 12, 2022

By Tim Worstall

In a new piece, Teen Vogue pushes two contrary ideas at the same time — Both that insulin is expensive and that cheap insulin is available.

This might not be the best way to try to educate the influencers of the future:

“That is why we hear stories of college students, away from home for the first time, skipping meals and struggling to make a 30-day insulin supply last for six months, putting their lives at risk every day because the price has doubled in just a few years,” the piece said. “And that is why we hear stories of young adults who die before their 25th birthday, because they were forced to switch to less effective over-the-counter insulin, leaving mothers and fathers with the pain of knowing their children died alone in their rooms after rationing medicine they needed to survive, insulin pens empty on the floor.

“But it does not have to be this way. For over 100 years, we have been able to save lives with insulin. For over 100 years, insulin has remained the only effective treatment for type 1 diabetes. But 100 years later, the drug costs more than ever.

 Diabetes is indeed a serious disease, and without insulin, many millions would be dead. 

But think for a moment about what is being said there. That over-the-counter insulin exists, it’s cheaper – otherwise, why would people switch to it? That over-the-counter insulin is also what we learned how to make 100 years ago. That is, the old stuff is cheap. The new stuff, the more effective (the biggest change is likely fewer side effects, but still better) insulin, well, it’s new. Someone has had to devise it, get it approved by the FDA, and then get it out to market. One of the reasons it’s so expensive is because of the way the FDA used to regulate “biosimilars”, something that has now thankfully changed.

But the new, better, insulin is expensive, the old not so good is cheaper. This is like complaining that the Cadillac Escalade is more expensive than a Model T. Well, yes, it is.

 Teen Vogue announces that it “educates the influencers of tomorrow” which is nice. It gains some 5 million visits a month as it does so. It’s also, obviously, more influential than those raw numbers indicate among female teens.

The particular political idea that this piece is meant to promote is the idea that insulin should cost no more than $35 for a month’s supply. Actually educating tomorrow’s anything would include the point that if the new must be priced the same as the old then no one will ever develop the new, will they? Price controls on insulin will, as with those on cars, lead to no technological advances. This would be a pity, as those side effects of the old insulin do kill some diabetics, something the new – and more expensive – types avoid. Something that the piece itself complains about.

Just like the death rate on America’s roads would be even more horrendous than they are if we were all in open cars, with no seatbelts, no disc brakes, no power brakes or steering let alone ABS systems, no crumple zones and so on. All of which gained a premium price when they were first introduced. Telling the young we can still have technological advances with price controls just isn’t a good idea and it’s certainly not educating them.


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