My Relationship With…The Rise of Insulin Prices

Since I was diagnosed at the age of 6, I do not remember a time when my parents told me they could not afford my insulin. Now, being 24 years old, I have realized no parent would tell their child something of that extreme, even if it is true. The child is already going through lifestyle changes; why tell them something else they cannot understand? The one time I remember having a conversation surrounding the cost of having diabetes was in the 8th grade – my parents wanted to find a way to cover the costs of the first-ever wireless insulin pump to make my life a little bit more comfortable; however, it was not covered by insurance at the time as it was deemed optional rather than necessary (nothing new).

In recent years, maybe because I have been more active on social media or because the political society we live in is utter trash, I have noticed more conversations surrounding the cost of surviving diabetes. It is not like a new invention has come about or as if there is a need to fund the improvement of insulin; manufacturers are raising the prices for their own selfish reasons. There are only 3 major manufacturers – Sanofi, Eli Lilly, and Novo Nordisk; whenever another manufacturer comes along that may provide a cheaper alternative, these manufacturers find ways to be the preferred manufacturer among insurance companies, including setting artificially high prices. Sanofi has even filed lawsuits against both Merck and Mylan to prevent them from going to market with a generic lantus insulin (the Sanofi blockbuster drug).

Think about the diabetics who have unfortunately passed away because they were unable to afford the high prices of the medication they needed. Nicole Smith-Holt’s son was just starting a life on his own, but turning 26 meant he could not stay on his parents’ insurance anymore. He died alone in his apartment after falling in a diabetic coma after trying to find ways to make his expensive insulin last longer. It happened less than a month after he aged out of his mother’s insurance and three days before payday. Jesse Lutgen was found dead in his home with empty vials of insulin given to him from the belongings of a deceased diabetic after losing his job, health insurance, and access to insulin.

Those who are still alive have gone through extreme measures to lessen the pain of not being able to afford the medication. Dillon Hooley cut back his insulin by a third because he noticed his parents were struggling to pay for his insulin. Mallory Lorge, a federal worker, could not afford the co-pay of her insulin during the shutdown and was forced to ignore her high blood sugar levels because she could not afford to go to the hospital.

Humalog, the insulin I use every hour of every day, has gone from $21 a vial to $278 a vial. Something must have changed, right? No. Wrong. There has not been a change to the insulin, the bottle, or even the packaging. That is a 1200% increase on a hormone I need for survival. A hormone many diabetes need to live. Is it my fault my body cannot produce it? No.

Let’s break down how much I would spend on Humalog this year if I did not have my parent’s insurance:

  • 1 Vial of Humalog: $278
  • The Number of Uses Per Vial (average): 5
  • How Long a Vial Lasts (average): 15 Days
  • The Number of Vials I Need Per Year (average): 25
  • The Amount I Would Spend on Humalog This Year: $6,950 (along with the amount I would spend on all of my other diabetic supplies: a glucose monitor, test strips, lancets, insulin pumps, insulin pens, insulin pen needles, a fast-acting medication in case my blood sugar goes too low – the list goes on and on)
  • The Amount I Could Possibly Spend on All My Supplies in a Year:
    $15,600

I would die in 48 hours without it. What about you?