Why is the cost of insulin so expensive in the U.S.?

The facts about diabetes

Insulin is  “a hormone produced in the pancreas which regulates the amount of glucose in the blood. The lack of insulin causes a form of diabetes.” For people living with diabetes, their pancreas has a hard time making insulin resulting in the inability to manage glucose levels. As a result, people with diabetes take insulin in order to meet the demands of their body and regulate their sugar. Failure to do so has devastating consequences. So why is this life-saving drug so expensive? Afterall, nobody asked their pancreas to stop working. 

According to the World Health Organization, an estimated 1.6 million deaths were directly caused by diabetes in 2016. Diabetes is a major cause of kidney failure, blindness, heart attacks, stroke, and lower limb amputation. One of the reasons these complications arise is from not having properly managed blood sugar levels. So why are these sugar levels not being managed? Well for Americans, it may be the cost of living with diabetes itself. 

In an article written by the BBC, insulin prices without insurance average about $300 for one vial.  For some, this means having to choose between paying your bills or paying for their life saving medication. In an attempt to save money, individuals may attempt to ration their insulin to make it last longer. This can lead to life threatening issues such as kidney failure, blindness, limb amputation etc. Furthermore, the $300 is just for the insulin itself. This does not even take into account the syringes, glucose meters, testing strips, or CGMs. On average, diabetics spend about $16,752 a year on medical expenditures. 

Why insulin is so expensive

The reason insulin is so expensive has to do with something called patents. What patents do is they give rights to a select group of individuals. The Federal Drug Agency (FDA) is an agency which regulates and approves drugs and grants these patents. These patents then provide only certain manufacturers to have the rights to make and distribute insulin in the U.S. Right now, only three manufacturers are allowed in the U.S. As a result, they have a monopoly over the market and set prices as they see fit. This results in insulin to cost $300 a vial. A far cry from the $1 that Frederick Banting and colleagues sold the patent of insulin for. The reason they sold it for so little? So everyone could afford this life-saving medication. 

What people can do to mitigate these costs

For the 34.2 million Americans with diabetes struggling to pay for basic needs and drowning in debt, paying for insulin starts with help from organizations. Organizations such as Help a Diabetic Child (HADC) , College Diabetes Network, and Affordable Insulin Project are great places to start. They offer support and are driven to raise awareness about this issue. Furthermore, be sure to reach out to community health centers for more resources and look into Medicaid health insurance. While this doesn’t solve the issue, it may be able to ease the financial burden of managing diabetes. 

The future

The fight to end the inflation of insulin prices is far from over. In order to ensure that this medication is accessible to all, we as a society need to fight. This means raising awareness about diabetes itself, erasing the stigma associated with it, and exposing this injustice that exists. The diabetes community is strong and when we band together, we can make a difference. Small changes are happening such as Colorado capping the price of insulin in the state, but the goal at the end of the day is that everybody should have the right to affordable healthcare. Health should not be considered a luxury. 

Carolina Clarke
Carolina Clarke is the marketing copywriter at The Diabetes App. She is passionate about social issues, travel, and fitness. She is a diabetes supporter and is dedicated to providing those living with diabetes with resources to help manage their diabetes. A desire to help is at the forefront of everything she writes.

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