Viewers tuning in to New Amsterdam to learn who died in the terrible ambulance accident from the spring finale will be shocked by the answers in the series premiere.
In just the first few minutes of the Sept. 24, episode, Dr. Reynolds (Jocko Sims) complains that pain prescriptions at the hospital break down along racial lines with African American patients being given “a lecture on how to tough it out and a handful of Tylenol,” immediately followed by Dr. Iggy Frome (Tyler Labine) taking a shot at “so-called conscience laws.”
Frome tells medical director Dr. Max Goodwin (Ryan Eggold) that an entire room of transgender children have all been denied “all” medical care “thanks to these so-called ‘conscience laws’ allowing hospitals to just freely discriminate.”
But the episode’s main attack wasn’t about discrimination. It was an attack on “Big Pharma” and focused on rising insulin prices: a real-life issue that prompted Congressional hearings earlier this year. But New Amsterdam’s shallow and oversimplified treatment of the issue laid all the blame in one place: Big Pharma.
One of Goodwin’s patients, diabetic Alma Pearson, is hospitalized due to rationing her insulin.
“What’s there to say? When I was first diagnosed insulin cost $21 a vial. Now it’s $250. I’m a substitute teacher, and I can’t afford it. Can’t afford to live. How can you help me with that,” Pearson tells him in defeat.
A nurse tells Goodwin other patients have been having the same problem and he rashly tells her to terminate the hospital’s contract with Pacentia Pharmaceuticals, claiming they’ll make their own. When confronted by a hospital administrator, Goodwin defends his decision calling the company “extortionists.”
His explanation of why insulin prices are skyrocketing was that patents are on how insulin is made not the insulin itself, so “Big Pharma keeps changing how to make it every few years, so they can keep filing new patents [and raising prices].”
The dialogue failed to admit that there’s been tremendous innovation regarding insulin that does actually benefit patients. The drugs weren’t changed willy-nilly, rather they’ve been dramatically improved.
According to Axios, an older insulin can still be purchased at Walmart inexpensively, but many patients don’t want it. Why? Because as Vox pointed out the product is a “human” insulin formulation developed “more than a decade before more refined insulins started to emerge.” Vox added that the newer drugs are better at preventing “dangerous blood sugar swings,” than the older kind of insulin.
With a distorted and complex market involving multiple pharmaceutical companies, insurance companies and pharmacy benefit managers, knowing who is responsible for real-life insulin price hikes is far more complicated than New Amsterdam made it appear.
Later in the episode, Goodwin creates a media circus to start a pressure campaign against the company. In a subtle plug for socialized medicine (something his character also praised in Season 1), Goodwin announces that insulin is far cheaper in Canada. While U.S. hospitals aren’t allowed to import it, individuals can, so he sends a huge truck to go buy insulin for thousands of “individuals.”
The stunt fails when the truck is blocked by customs, but the shamed company offers to give the teacher a lifetime supply of insulin for free if the doctor will stop publicly humiliating them.
The show’s facts about Canada also missed the mark. Canada regulates the price of insulin, but the Canadian Diabetes Association found that hasn’t made them immune to rising costs.
“In general, Canadians with Type 1 diabetes pay more than those with Type 2 diabetes. And, if you're on an insulin pump, you pay a lot more. Exactly how much Canadians pay depends in large part on the province in which they live,” CBC News reported in January 2019.