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High Cost of Insulin May Be Deadly

The cost of insulin has been rising dramatically since before 2012. When people with type 1 diabetes can't purchase the insulin they need, they may die.
High Cost of Insulin May Be Deadly
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Insulin was first used to treat type 1 diabetes on January 11th, 1922. It was a major medical breakthrough. In type 1 diabetes, the body cannot make insulin, and without this hormone, the patient dies. With insulin, people with type 1 diabetes had a chance at life. The patent on insulin expired many decades ago. As a result, for years the cost of insulin was quite affordable.

What Has Happened to the Cost of Insulin?

More recently, though, drug companies have modified insulin through genetic engineering. New insulins led to new patents and higher prices. Those have been climbing steadily.

The nonprofit Health Care Cost Institute estimates that the yearly cost of insulin for people with type 1 diabetes in 2012 was around $2,800 per patient (Health Care Cost Institute, January 21, 2019). By 2016, that number had almost doubled to roughly $5,700 annually.

With prices that high, many people have difficulty paying for their insulin. In recent months, some people have died. Investigators have attributed their deaths to insulin rationing. Here is a CBS news story on a tragic case.

Can You Lower the Cost of Insulin by Shopping Overseas?

Some people have tried to solve the problem by crossing the border. An NBC news report followed Americans buying insulin in Mexico. They spent about $900 for the medicine that would have cost $8,500 at home. Other Americans with type 1 diabetes have addressed the cost of insulin by shopping in Canada. This PharmacyChecker blog describes the regulations.

Unfortunately, far too many people can’t afford to leave the country to purchase their life-saving drug. On the other hand, they can’t afford the current cost of insulin they need to survive. How should the healthcare system respond?

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About the Author
Terry Graedon, PhD, is a medical anthropologist and co-host of The People’s Pharmacy radio show, co-author of The People’s Pharmacy syndicated newspaper columns and numerous books, and co-founder of The People’s Pharmacy website. Terry taught in the Duke University School of Nursing and was an adjunct assistant professor in the Department of Anthropology. She is a Fellow of the Society of Applied Anthropology. Terry is one of the country's leading authorities on the science behind folk remedies. .
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