The Price of Insulin

“As the cost of insulin climbs, millions of Americans with diabetes are paying a steep price to stay alive.” So says an American Diabetes Association (ADA) press release. Now the ADA wants to do something about soaring prices.

In November, the ADA began circulating a petition to drug companies and Congress asking for greater transparency in insulin pricing. The petition asks Congress for a thorough investigation of why prices are getting so high.

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Prices for insulin have gone up on average roughly 200% since 2002. Some of this is due to newer, better insulins, but in many cases the same drug costs far more than it did a few years ago. Quinn Phillips wrote here that, “Between 2000 and 2010, the price of a vial of insulin lispro rose from $35 to $234 — a 585% increase — and the price of a vial of human insulin rose from $20 to $131, a 555% increase.”

People are cutting down their insulin doses, switching from pumps to injections, or going from newer insulins back to much older products like NPH insulin to save money. People are reporting having to “choose between insulin and food, or insulin and rent.” I am sure many of our readers can tell stories about the challenges of rising prices.

The causes of the price bubble are complicated. For starters, people who use insulin are a captive market and need the product to survive. Additionally, there is little competition; only three manufacturers provide nearly all insulin in the United States. Also, generic insulins are not allowed, and Medicare is not allowed to negotiate prices with manufacturers.

That’s why the ADA is asking for government action. Noting that insulin prices in Europe are about a sixth of the price in the United States, they “call upon Congress to hold hearings with all entities in the insulin supply chain to identify the reasons for the dramatic increases in insulin prices and to take action to ensure that all people who use insulin have affordable access to the insulin they need.”

Time to get active
You may not be on insulin, but I’m sure you know people who are. What can you do? Go to the ADA website and sign the petition. Write and call your congressional representatives asking them to support hearings on insulin prices and action to get the prices under control.

Other groups are also petitioning Congress on this issue. A mother created a petition on a site called Petition2Congress that has about 28,000 supporters so far. Others have started a petition on MoveOn.org.

Write letters to editors and websites. Tell them your story of paying for insulin or the stories of people you know.

Other things you can do
As mentioned above, three corporations make nearly all the insulin sold in the U.S. So far one manufacturer has responded to the pressure by offering discounts of as much as 40% for those who pay full retail prices at the pharmacy. The discount program may lower costs on their insulin products for people who have no insurance or who are in the deductible phase of high-deductible insurance plans.

You can also reduce your costs by using cheaper insulin, like Humulin N. You’ll have to learn how to use it safely, and be more careful about preventing hypoglycemia (low blood sugar), but long-term results with older insulins seem as good as with newer insulins, at least for people with Type 2 diabetes. It’s extremely cheap at big box stores. You could also sharply reduce your carbohydrate intake so you need less insulin. You can ask your doctor or diabetes educator for advice and for samples when you see them.

This is just one of many issues calling for us to be more active, but maybe it’s a good place to start.

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  • RAWLCM

    Only 150,000 signatures kind of makes me sad, when I think of how many people are affected by diabetes and/or insulin costs. I don’t know much about social media, but perhaps someone who does could place a link in a Facebook or Twitter post and try to make it “go viral.” It seems easy enough to get some pretty frivolous messages to spread… if only we can do the same for something worthwhile?