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Same name, new face: Kennedy running on platform of lower drug costs

Democratic candidate for District 76 state representative ran 146 miles on Sept. 28 and 29 from Aurora to Columbus to raise awareness about the rising cost of insulin. Credit: Courtesy of Marybeth Keeler

John Kennedy ran 142 miles to the Ohio Statehouse in Columbus from his home in Aurora, Ohio. He began the night of Sept. 28 and arrived Sept. 29 in the evening.

The Democratic candidate running to be the Ohio’s 76th District state representative, Kennedy hoped his run would bring attention to the rising cost of insulin and other prescription drugs, a major focus of his campaign.

“This was not about how quickly I could get down to Columbus,” Kennedy said. “It was about inspiring other people who suffer from this condition and to not see a pre-existing condition like diabetes as a limiter.”

Kennedy, 52, is a Type 1 diabetic, who has never been a politician — though he has been an ultramarathoner. With a career in information technology, Kennedy has decided to run for office to decrease the cost of basic healthcare needs, citing the rising cost of insulin as the starting point for his campaign.

District 76 is comprised of 15 communities in Geauga County and 11 communities in Portage County, all located in Northeast Ohio. Voting begins at 6:30 a.m. on Nov. 6.

“It was time for me to jump in instead of just standing back,” Kennedy said. “I felt like on the insulin stuff and on the lack of affordability of healthcare in general, this was something that fired me up and that was my spark.”

Diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes in 1996, Kennedy has observed the rising costs of insulin and pharmaceutical greed.

“Now you can spend $300 or more for a tiny vial of insulin and, as a result, one in four Type 1 diabetics are rationing their insulin,” Kennedy said. “It’s 2018 and it’s unacceptable that people are having to ration [medication].”

“It was about inspiring other people who suffer from this condition and to not see a pre-existing condition like diabetes as a limiter.” —John Kennedy, Democratic Candidate in Ohio’s 76th District

Kennedy’s first plan of action if elected is to present the Drug Price Transparency bill that would require pharmaceutical companies to reveal the cost of manufacturing drugs and their profits. According to the National Academy for State Health Policy, seven states already passed similar bills — Oregon, Vermont, Maine, New Hampshire, Connecticut, California and Nevada.

“What we’re trying to do is shame [pharmaceutical companies] into lowering the costs of their medication and prescriptions,” Kennedy said.

Angela Lautner, founder of Kentucky, Ohio, Indiana #Insulin4All, an insulin cost and drug price transparency advocacy group, voiced her support for Kennedy and noted the importance of his run for insulin cost reduction advocates.

“If someone runs 142 miles to drive home a point about the price of insulin, I have no doubt he’s going to take that to the State House with him,” Lautner said.

KOI #Insulin4All assisted Kennedy during his run by collecting signatures for support in introducing the bill.

“Across Kentucky and Ohio, we gathered signatures from people in tears because they don’t know how they will be able to pay for the insulin they, or their loved one, [need] to have to live,” Lautner said.

According to the American Diabetes Association, 13.5 percent of the adult population in Ohio has diabetes, and diabetes and pre-diabetes costs Ohio $12 billion every year. A Bloomberg study found that the new price of one 10 milliliter vial of Levemir, a type of insulin for diabetics, costs $293.75, and many patients use more than one vial per month.

“It’s a ‘pay or die’ scenario,” Lautner said.

Lautner also noted the importance of having an elected official who understands having a pre-existing condition firsthand. She said Kennedy’s opponent — two-time incumbent Republican Sarah LaTourette — does not have the same understanding.

Lautner said while LaTourette’s views might be fine in her mind, people are still dying from a lack of accessible resources.

“So those different views are not working for us,” Lautner said. “That’s why we’re hoping that John Kennedy would win.”

Kennedy also noted LaTourette’s campaign financing and said her largest contributions come from Big Pharma, which refers to large, highly profitable pharmaceutical companies.

“She takes over $30,000 from pharmaceutical companies, and she also takes a big chunk of money from the health insurance industry,” Kennedy added. “I am not taking any corporate contributions from anybody. Even after I’m elected, I refuse to do that.”

According to VoteSmart.org, about 18 percent of LaTourette’s campaign finances were from companies in the health sector. Kennedy’s contributions were entirely from individuals.

LaTourette’s campaign, which is currently outraising Kennedy $193,618 to $2,635, did not respond to request for comment at the time of publication.

Kennedy is hopeful that his affordable medication platform will inspire people to vote outside of party lines.

“It’s a human rights issue and less partisan issue,” Kennedy said. “I’m doing this because I feel like I need to do this, and I need to play my part in American democracy and in this state right now.”

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