Skyrocketing insulin prices have Americans going to pharmacies in Canada to save thousands of dollars.
One researcher researcher says many who donâ€™t have that option are rationing their insulin, which can be deadly.
The American Diabetes Association says the average price of insulin tripled between 2002 and 2013. Thatâ€™s sending many Americans to Canada, where they pay up to 10 times less per vial.
Itâ€™s also causing diabetics in this country to skip doses or ration their insulin, which can mean serious complications or death.
It’s an issue facing 29 million Americans face.
Adam Kozie, his wife, and cats, Zelda and Geo, live in Seattle. Adam is an insulin-dependent diabetic. His cost of a vial of insulin shot up from $40 to $135, even though he has insurance.
â€śI was exasperated, paying so much for my drugs,” he said. “I need this to keep myself alive.â€ť
Adamâ€™s doctor, Irl Hirsch, told him he could drive to Canada, save money and get more than the one-month supply.
â€śThatâ€™s a huge benefit, being able to buy in Canada without a prescription, is that I have a fridge full of insulin right now,” Adam said. “If something goes wrong, I have a huge supply of the thing that I need to stay alive.â€ť
â€śIt just infuriates me to no end that this drug that weâ€™ve had for almost 100 years is inaccessible for so many people,â€ť Hirsch said.
A diabetic himself, Hirsch has studied insulin prices for decades. He says Humalog went from $24 a vial when it came out in 1996 to $300 full retail now. People can get Humalog in Canada for $32 Canadian.
â€śThat means theyâ€™re making money on that $30 vial of insulin, which in the U.S. at retail cost is 10 times that price,â€ť Hirsch said.
He says the difference is Canada regulates drug costs, while the U.S. does not.
â€śWe are now hearing of not just hospitalizations for people who have rationed or run out of their insulin, but now this year, we are hearing of deaths,â€ť Hirsch said.
He said heâ€™ll keep fighting until insulin is accessible and affordable.
Hirsch hopes change is coming. Several insulin-makers are named in a class-action suit for alleged price fixing. The companies themselves are launching programs to make insulin more affordable, especially for the 3.2 million uninsured Americans.
Patients do have another option now in the U.S.: they can buy less expensive human or synthetic insulin for as little as $25 dollars at Walmart. But itâ€™s an older insulin and may act differently. Talk to your doctor before making a switch.
SKYROCKETING PRICES=INSULIN CRISIS
BACKGROUND: Insulin is a hormone that helps turn blood sugar into energy. People with diabetes take insulin because they have insulin deficiency or resistance. Seven million Americans depend on insulin. As many as 3 million Americans with Type 1 diabetes and 4 million with Type 2 diabetes require insulin to maintain their health. Insulin costs are skyrocketing, and companies like Eli Lilly, Novo Nordisk, and Sanofi are raising prices to whatever the market will bear, unrestricted by regulations or competition from generics. Between 2002 and 2013, the average price for this life-saving, injectable drug has tripled, according to the American Diabetes Association. Several factors are fueling the price hikes. Insulin makers have continually adjusted formulations, creating insulin â€śanalogsâ€ť that are easier to use and less likely to trigger dangerous low blood sugar episodes, but that cost millions of dollars to develop, noted by Johns Hopkins University researchers. This practice, which the researchers call â€śevergreening,â€ť keeps pricey brands under patent protection so other drug makers canâ€™t copy formulas and offer lower-cost versions. Thatâ€™s one reason thereâ€™s no low-cost â€śgenericâ€ť insulin in the United States.
(Source: https://rightcarealliance.org/cms/assets/uploads/2018/02/insulin-fact-sheet.pdf and https://www.ontrackdiabetes.com/type-1-diabetes/insulin-prices-still-high)
AFFORDABLE INSULIN?: One reason for the high prices is the lack of generic options for insulin. So for now, people are stuck having to search around to find affordable options. Our national polls show people might cut back on groceries and paying bills to pay for their medications. However, there are other options. If you donâ€™t have health insurance or are without drug coverage, look into applying for a patient assistance program. You can find some programs that offer free or low-cost insulin as long as you meet the eligibility requirements. Another way to save is by asking your doctor whether thereâ€™s a lower-priced insulin thatâ€™s right for you. While â€ślong-actingâ€ť is a more popular type of insulin, it’s also more expensive, but that doesnâ€™t necessarily mean it works better. As is the case with most other medications, prices can vary depending on where you fill your prescription. Shoppers have frequently found that getting a lower price requires some shopping around.
Diabetes patient, Adam Kozie, says, â€śI use about 1.5 vials of Humalog (or similar Novolog) insulin per month. Each vial was $135 after submitting through insurance at the pharmacy counter in 2016. I donâ€™t know what it would cost me to do that currently, as Iâ€™ve exclusively gotten my insulin from Canada since November 2016.â€ť
WHAT DOES RESEARCH FORETELL?: A study by researchers at Yale University found at one clinic in New Haven, Connecticut, that one in four patients admitted to cutting back on insulin use because of cost. Researchers surveyed 199 patients in the New Haven area who had either Type 1 or Type 2 diabetes, asking them six questions about their ability to afford insulin, including â€śDid you use less insulin than prescribed because of cost?â€ť and â€śDid you not fill an insulin prescription because of cost?â€ť A positive response to any of these questions counted as insulin underuse. Patients who reported an income between $25,000 and $100,000 were more likely to be cutting back on insulin compared with those who said they earn over $100,000. In the past decade, a global network of patient activists pushed for legislation to reduce the cost of diabetes treatment. This June, The American Medical Association issued a statement calling for price transparency and for the Federal Trade Commission and the Justice Department to monitor insulin pricing. Kristin Sikes, a pediatric endocrine nurse at Yale University, said the situation has gotten worse in the last five years. â€śFamilies are making decisions,â€ť she said. â€śDo I feed my family or stretch the bottle of insulin as long as possible?â€ť