Lowering Insulin Costs

Are expensive items better than less costly ones? When it comes to insulin, it doesn’t seem so, according to a new study.

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The sharp climb the cost of insulin has been a matter of concern lately. Price hikes have been especially steep for the new “analog” forms of insulin, such as glargine and lispro. In this new study, researchers at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston set out to determine if these newer, costlier insulins performed better than less expensive human insulin.

The researchers got their data from CareMore Health, a health plan and care delivery system for Medicare and Medicaid patients. Four years ago, CareMore began a program to switch its members from analog to human insulin and the researchers wanted to find out if the change made a difference to the patients’ health. They conducted a retrospective study of nearly 15,000 older CareMore participants with Type 2 diabetes from four states. They compared outcomes for patients who had switched from analogue to human insulin to the outcomes for patients who hadn’t.

After analyzing the results, the researchers found that the change to human insulin was associated with a small, population-level increase of only 0.14 in hemoglobin A1C. According to Jing Luo, MD, head researcher on the study, “The change that we found is so small that I do not believe this is clinically meaningful or relevant.” The researchers also reported no important differences in rates of serious incidents of high or low blood sugar after the change of insulins.

Dr. Luo said, however, that it’s not a “slam dunk” to say one insulin is preferable to another, pointing out that analog insulin can be more convenient and has long-lasting properties. But he added, “Our study provides real-world evidence from clinical practice that should reassure patients, providers, and payers that it may be possible to switch to an older, less expensive insulin to bring down costs while preserving quality of care.”

Want to learn more about insulin? Read “What Does Insulin Do?” “Insulin: What You Need to Know” and “Everything You Ever Wanted to Know About Injecting Insulin.”

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