If national news coverage and state legislators voicing support aren't enough, then a primetime TV show tackling an issue should be a sign that it's caught fire. Exactly that is the case with the Insulin Affordability Crisis -- as the FOX TV series The Resident addressed skyrocketing pricing and insulin rationing in a recent episode.
We caught up with co-executive producer and script writer of 'The Resident 'Andrew Chapman, who lives with type 1 himself and is one of three PWDs (people with diabetes) on staff for the popular medical drama now in its second season. Our interview with Chapman is below, along with some related updates on the #insulin4all advocacy movement that's growing across the USA and globally.
There have also been a flurry of mainstream media stories on this issue lately, including a high-profile spot featuring a D-peep advocate on the TODAY show, and a D-Mom who testified before a Congressional panel on drug pricing. Additionally, the UK-based nonprofit T1International held its second-annual protest on insulin prices in front of Eli Lilly's HQ in Indianapolis on Sept. 30.
"I think this latest wave of recognition is really down to the hard work of so many people," says T1International co-founder Elizabeth Rowley. "Volunteers dedicated to this, on top of their full-time jobs and the job of worrying about paying for their insulin and supplies, are making waves to get this on the public radar and to get politicians to see the essential nature of this issue."
TV Show Handles Diabetes with Care
For those not familiar with the FOX drama The Resident that debuted in January 2018, it tackles the American healthcare mess on a weekly basis.
"We try to find issues in the modern American healthcare that are problematic – money corrupting medical care, unaccountable and bad doctors, ways in which healthcare isn’t responsive to the American public," Chapman tells us.
Diabetes has been mentioned a few times in the first and second season, though the earlier references didn't delve into the serious issue of access and affordability. In the recent second episode of Season 2, the show focused specifically on insulin pricing and rationing as well as a broader "have or have-nots" theme in who can afford medical and diabetes care.
The episode had an early airing in late September on streaming service Hulu, and then aired for everyone else on FOX the following week on Monday, Oct. 1. In this episode, a 13-year-old girl named Abby comes into the ER in desperate need of insulin and later resorts to taking some when she isn't seen right away. It's eventually shown that she was there to get more insulin because she's been rationing the medicine due to its outrageously high cost.
There’s a short video clip of one scene, and it's a particularly powerful one addressing the issue:
At the same time, another patient -- a young boy -- is admitted to the ER after an accident and ends up having his pancreas removed, meaning he'll be diabetic himself; though in his case, his parents aren't hurting financially so cost is not a concern.
That's it for our spoilers; you'll have to watch for yourself to see how it all turns out. But we have to say, the juxtaposition of these two storylines is quite well done and makes the point very clearly about just how flawed our American healthcare system is.
Talking with Andrew Chapman, Co-Executive Producer of 'The Resident'
We reached Andrew Chapman by phone recently, and he shared his own D-story with us:
He was diagnosed with type 1.5 (LADA, or latent autoimmune diabetes in adults) about eight years ago, in his mid-40s. He’s not yet on insulin, due largely to his diligence in eating low-carb, exercising and Metformin use – along with his insulin-producing cells still firing and giving him a “honeymoon” level of D-management to date. While he and his endocrinologist both realize that he’s creeping toward insulin dependency, that hasn’t happened quite yet.
He's been a writer on many TV shows and movies over the years, some that have aired and others than never saw the light of day, and he's also a published author under the name Drew Chapman! Fascinating stuff, and great to know he's a fellow D-peep.
While Chapman credits his writers’ guild insurance with being "fabulous" and helping to shield him from unaffordability like so many, he’s quite aware of the insulin pricing and rationing crisis and felt passionate about bring it to light.
“Being a writer on 'The Resident' is a perfect platform to talk about issues near and dear to my heart,” Chapman says. “Two issues I really wanted to talk about and address on the show – that people who are rich and poor get different levels of healthcare in America, even if they’re seeing the same doctor; and the fact that insulin prices are through the roof and how that’s wildly unfair. Some can’t afford it and they’re beginning to ration their dosage, and even dying as a result. It’s so upsetting to me that this happens. It’s just crazy and tragic. So I wanted to shine a light on that.”
It apparently didn't take much convincing to get it into the script, given given that of the total 16+ member writing staff, two other writers besides Chapman also live with diabetes themselves – one is type 1 since childhood, and another is type 2. Not to mention that this issue has come up frequently when talking to the doctors and nurses who come in to consult on the show, Chapman says.
While he hasn’t been following the #insulin4all conversations and that wasn’t a direct influence on this storyline, he says the national media coverage along with those experiences mentioned above were the key influencers.
Chapman says he hopes to revisit this issue in the future on The Resident. He also points to his dislike of “blame the patient” mentality, specifically as it relates to PWDs and those with T2 who face that stigma so often. He wasn’t involved in past mentions of diabetes on the show, but he’s using his own voice to make sure the scripts are accurate and not off-base – as is so often the case when it comes to diabetes being portrayed on TV or in movies. Having his POV as part of the scriptwriting on the show is huge!
As for his hopes on what may result from this recent episode, Chapman says simply that it's all about raising public awareness.
“Insulin pricing is truly a tragic thing and needs to be at least taken seriously, so let’s shine a light on it,” he said. “We’re not doing 'advocacy television'; that’s not what we are interested in. We look at the issues, bring them to light and dramatize them. Let people react as they will. If the Diabetes Community sees this helping the issue finally hit the mainstream and decides to picket Pharma, then great. Or if it just starts a conversation between people, that’s fantastic. That’s all we can really do and what I think we’ve done in this episode.”
Props to Chapman and The Resident team for hitting this one out of the park. We enjoyed the episode, even though the reality of it brought heartache. Here's hoping that this episode helps raise the profile of this national conversation and all that's happening on the advocacy front.
(btw, take a listen of this Diabetes Connections podcast, featuring a chat between host Stacey Simms and Chapman!)
Lilly Diabetes Protest Gets Bigger
More than 80 people attended the Lilly protest on Sept. 30, nearly three times as many as were present at the first protest a year earlier. I personally attended and wrote about that initial demonstration last year, and while I wasn't able to attend this latest demonstration, quite a bit of news coverage came out of it. There's also a full live webcast on some of the event and pictures, too.
In one heart-breaking segment, Minnesota D-Mom Nicole Smith-Holt (who lost her son Alec in 2017 due to insulin rationing of unaffordable insulin) showed how she brought her son's ashes in an insulin vial to the Lilly demonstration. JUST. WOW.
"The event was inspiring for all of us," said T1International's Rowley. "You could feel the pain, power and determination of patients who are ready to continue taking action or take action for the first time. We aren't going anywhere as long as people are forced to sacrifice things like rent, food, bills, and peace of mind because of the outrageous cost of insulin."
We had reached out to Lilly just before the planned demonstration, asking if anyone from the company planned to attend or if they had a specific response. Lilly's communication director Greg Kueterman offered this statement in an email:
"Engagement on this issue is important, and demonstrations are a way to have your voices heard Lilly is committed to offering ways to help people who have trouble affording our insulins."
Uh huh. Not much there, Lilly... seriously.
Anyhow, people continue taking to the streets (literally) and the mainstream news coverage on #insulin4all continues to grow -- from D-parents sharing their struggles and fears after experiencing pharmacy sticker-shock, to the 22-year-old Hattie Saltzman in Kansas City who's been sharing her own family's insulin pricing story on news stations and on the TODAY Show in August, and D-Mom Nicole Smith-Holt who's been on the media circuit and testified before a Congressional Senate committee in August about her son's death as a result of sky-high insulin prices. Clearly, this is all having a ripple effect across the country.
Lobbying Congress on Insulin Pricing
The day after that Lilly protest, an so-called #insulin4all Day of Action took place -- in which the Diabetes Community was urged to contact their state and federal lawmakers about the travesty of insulin pricing. Twitter and other channels were lit up with this issue and calls to action, hopefully encouraging more lawmakers to focus on this topic.
Meanwhile, the Diabetes Patient Advocacy Coalition (DPAC) held its first advocacy training session that same weekend, and on Oct. 1 a group of D-advocates converged on Capitol Hill to raise their voices to Congressional members and staff. This group apparently took part in 30+ meetings with Congressional folk and a Congressional staff briefing -- all of which included people sharing their own stories and those from around our D-Community, on issues that included access to affordable insulin.
For Rowley, who's watched the #insulin4all movement grow since it first started in 2014, it's impressive to see this catching on the way it has.
"To me all this is proof that grassroots movements have power and that patient voices are what will ultimately make change happen, as we've seen historically," Rowley says. "Advocacy doesn't change things overnight, but it changes things gradually in powerful ways that last for decades or forever. That's what we are seeing happen over the years and with this recent surge of attention on the insulin pricing issue."
We second that sentiment here at the 'Mine, and tip our hats in thanks to all of those working for fair and proper access to this life-sustaining medication.