My best friend in middle school was a type 1 diabetic. She had to go to the nurse before lunch to check her blood glucose levels, she kept little juice boxes around in case of a low, and she became an advocate for those around her with diabetes. She and I even went to a conference with other young diabetics (where I was a “type we” aka someone who cared about someone with diabetes). From being her friend, I became well versed in how diabetes affected a person’s body biologically, the telling signs of low blood sugar, what insulin smelled like, and all other things diabetes.
Insulin prices are rising, and have been for awhile now. But why does a drug that is so vital to someone’s life keep rising in price?
Between 2002 and 2013, the average price for this life-saving, injectable drug used by nearly 10 million Americans with diabetes has tripled
Insulin costs are rising because insulin development costs are rising. A newer, better form of the drug means that there needs to be more spending in the pharmaceutical company’s research and development department. Additionally, there are no generic forms of insulin (basically, everything is branded) that can do the job as effectively as a branded drug. Aside from the cost of insulin itself, there are also costs related to the upkeep of diabetes, like the cost of test strips, pumps and monitors, and other supplies.
Companies and organizations are trying to help by offering rebates, discounts, and customer assistance programs (but these programs aren’t really well understood or publicized and sometimes don’t help the uninsured). While you might think that those with insurance don’t feel the sting of rising costs as badly as those without insurance, consider the high deductible and copay costs, depending on the plan.
Despite recent backlash from consumers and politicians, pharmaceutical companies Sanofi and Novo Nordisk are raising prices (around a 4-5% increase) in the United States. Eli Lilly is the other manufacturer that dominates the insulin market. Because there are only three competitors, the competition is limited and the companies can raise prices. Scott Gottlieb, the FDA Commissioner (who just announced his resignation), even said that because of the rising prices, diabetics are rationing their insulin, or even dying, because they can’t afford the costs.
According to the American Diabetes Association, there are 30.3 million Americans living with diabetes; 1.25 million of those cases are type 1 children and adults. While type 2 diabetics can control and treat their diabetes with weight loss, healthy eating, exercise, and sometimes the use of insulin and other diabetes medications, type 1 diabetics cannot survive without insulin, making the rising costs especially critical.
If you believe that insulin is not a luxury, consider signing this petition by the American Diabetes Association to stand up for affordable insulin.
Also published on Medium.