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Insulin: Is it possible to Make Ends Meet?

Updated: Apr. 12, 2021 at 7:03 PM EDT
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LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WAVE) - If you have a chronic illness, there is a chance that you’ve found yourself stuck between a drug you need and a high price that hits you hard in your wallet. Maybe you just can’t afford it at all.

A good example of that would be the price diabetics must pay for insulin. More than seven million Americans require insulin to treat their diabetes and many of those who need the drug struggle to pay the cost.

Insulin is a 100-year-old drug, but its current day prices are enough to make some sick. One brand of insulin, according to The American Journal of Managed Care, has increased it price by 1200% in the last 25 years.

The increase in the price of insulin has captured the attention of not only patients but also some politicians, who have now joined a coalition of 43 advocates and economic justice organizations to launch “Investigate Insulin Now”. The group is demanding policymakers at the Federal Trade Commission investigate and prosecute what they have labeled the deadly pharmaceutical cartel.

The cartel is comprised of the three main drug companies who are responsible for more than 90% of the nation’s insulin.

House Bill 95 is now law in Kentucky. Governor Andy Beshear signed the bill which caps out of pocket insulin cost to 30 dollars per month.

“For too long, too many Kentuckians with diabetes have struggled to afford this life preserving, and in many cases, lifesaving medication,” declared Beshear before signing the bill into law.

The new law only covers those with state regulated employer health plans or plans purchased on marketplace exchanges that were set up by the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare.  That is only 30 percent of Kentuckians.  The other 70 percent of Kentuckians needing insulin are not covered by the new law.

“I’m scared you know,” exclaimed diabetic Angie Summers.  “I don’t know when I’ll be able to afford the insulin I need to take. It was gonna be $996 and that was with insurance.”

Summers cannot afford to pay that price every month for the three drugs she must take to regulate her blood sugar levels. 

US Representative Katie Porter, a member of the Oversight Subcommittee on Economic and Consumer Policy, recently spoke with the American Economic Liberties Project as they launched the campaign “Investigate Insulin Now” to help patients like Summers.

“As many as 1 in 4 people can’t afford their insulin so they ration it out or they starve themselves so as to need less insulin,” exclaimed Porter.

Summers cannot pay the price for her medication, but she did pay the price of rationing it or just not taking it at all. Her first diabetic amputation came in 2013. She lost her right leg below the knee.  In February of 2020, Summers lost her left leg.

“I really hoped and prayed I wouldn’t be in this situation again but here I am and it’s not just me,” she stressed.

Both Summers and Porter blame what they call the Insulin Cartel which consist of Eli Lily, Novo-Nordisk and Sanofi.

“Eli Lilly, Sanofi and Novo-Nordisk control nearly 100% of the US insulin supply,” proclaimed Porter.

Summers also stresses she believes the Federal Trade Commission should investigate and prosecute the companies for what she believes is their role for the number of people who have died or suffered the results of amputations because the companies continue to raise the price of their insulin.

“At some point it ought to be that you don’t get to just make more and more and more profit at the cost of other people’s lives,” exclaimed Summers.  “It’s just wrong!”

Americans pay more than 10 times as much for insulin as Canadians do, according to the New England Journal of Medicine. Lack of price regulations and lack of competition in the US is now leading to a lack of patients being able to buy what they need according to Investigate Insulin Now.

“If this continues what is this insulin gonna be in five years,” stressed Summers.

According to the American Diabetes Association, there are a variety of programs to which physicians can direct patients in need of financial help. Eli Lilly, Sanofi, and Novo Nordisk all offer patient assistance programs, but these are generally reserved for people whose income is less than $36,000 per year and who do not have health insurance.

Blink Health and Inside Rx are programs that may offer discounts of up to 40 percent on insulin compared to pharmacy prices.

The Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation listed several nonprofit patient and insulin assistance programs that may be able to help with the costs of Type 1 diabetes medication. They include:

  • Partnership for Prescription Assistance, which is sponsored by pharmaceutical companies, doctors, patient advocacy organizations, and civic groups. It helps low-income, uninsured patients get free or low-cost brand-name medications.
  • NeedyMeds maintains a free, extensive database of patient assistance programs, state assistance, medication discount programs, and free or low-cost medical care. The site also includes information on programs geared to help consumers through the application process.
  • RxAssist is an online database of pharmaceutical company programs that provide free or affordable medicines and co-pay assistance.
  • RxHope is an online resource patients can search for an assistance program according to the type of medication. It also helps with the application process.
  • RxOutreach is a nonprofit mail-order pharmacy for uninsured or underinsured people.
  • The National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDIK) publishes a resource called “Financial Help for Diabetes Care,” containing information about resources that may help with medical expenses of a person with diabetes. You can view this publication online or order copies from the National Diabetes Information Clearinghouse at 1-800-860-8747.

For more on the efforts of Investigate Insulin now, click or tap here. To connect directly to the groups petition investigate and prosecute the drug companies they feel are responsible for the high cost of insulin, visit this website.

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