NATIONWIDE (WGME) – A new study, published this week in JAMA Internal Medicine, found thousands of people with diabetes are turning to a much less expensive, over-the-counter insulin as the cost of the life-saving drug has nearly doubled since 2012.
“I was diagnosed at 30 years old,” said Matthew Kennedy, 34, from Jay.
Kennedy said he was always healthy and never took any medication until he learned he had type 1 diabetes four years ago.
“Friends and family started to notice I was losing a lot of weight,” Kennedy said.
Even with insurance, it costs him anywhere from $300-400 a month for his insulin and supplies.
“If you don’t have insulin your body is dying. If you’re paying an exorbitant amount of money, it’s just not sustainable. It’s something you need all the time,” Kennedy said.
As the cost of his prescription insulin got more expensive, he started using Novolin R, an over-the-counter insulin available at Walmart, which you can get for about $25 a vial.
“It’s either that or no insulin. I had weeks where I went and literally had to chose whether it was diapers or insulin that I desperately needed,” said the father of two.
But he said he had a harder time managing his disease.
“It’s a band-aid,” said Loretta Hothersall, a nurse practitioner with more than 20 years experience treating people with diabetes.
Hothersall, who has her own practice in Kennebunk, explained the insulin sold at Walmart is an older kind of insulin which takes longer to start working and may cause more complications.
“It becomes a roller coaster ride for the patient. That’s not what you want. You want to run as evenly as possible,” she said.
Walmart tells the I-Team its insulin products “can save customers thousands of dollars in a year” but wouldn’t answer follow-up questions about their effectiveness.
Novo Nordisk makes Novolin R, the $25 insulin, sold at Walmart under the private brand ReliOn.
It also makes the more expensive, newer insulin Novolog, which has a list price of $289 a vial.
Before taking any insulin medicines, patients should talk with their healthcare providers to determine what options are right for their treatment. Human insulin is an available, effective, and affordable option for people who require insulin and do not have access to the modern insulin analogs. Both types of insulin work similarly to lower blood glucose once absorbed in the bloodstream, and have been shown to delay or prevent serious complications from diabetes. -Ken Inchausti, Novo Nordisk spokesman
Novo Nordisk’s Chief Medical Officer Dr. Todd Hobbs shared similar thoughts in a November 2018 blog posted title, “The Truth About Human Insulin.”
“As someone living well with type 1 diabetes, if I had to take human insulin again, I most certainly would,” Dr. Hobbs wrote.
A new study out this week finds people with diabetes are turning to the over-the-counter insulin because they can’t afford their prescription.
The research estimates more than 18,000 vials of insulin are sold every day at Walmart.
“It almost becomes a distinction between the have and the have not,” Hothersall said.
Walmart wouldn’t comment or release sales data.
Matthew Kennedy is now back on the more expensive Novolog after finding ways to pay less for it.
“I have a good pharmacists he let me know of programs out there. Most of these companies, bigger companies, have coupons if you register online,” Kennedy said.
Novo Nordisk said the company is committed to reducing out of pocket costs for patients by offering things like discount co-pay cards and assistance programs.