Forced to choose: Rising cost of insulin impacting low income diabetics

Cost of medicine forcing some diabetics to choose between paying bills and taking meds.

The cost of insulin, which keeps blood sugar regulated in diabetic patients, has risen sharply over the last five years, as has the out-of-pocket costs for those with insurance, and some low-income diabetics are being forced to choose between buying the life saving medicine and paying their monthly bills, according to an article in the CTPost.

Citing information from Connecticut physicians, the article continues to say the cost of the drug ranges from $25 to $600 per months for their patients, depending on the insurance coverage plan they have.  Dr. Bismruta Misra, an endocrinologist with the Stamford Health Medical Group and the Diabetes & Endocrine Center at Stamford Hospital said some patients are having to make a hard choice between rent and insulin.  Dr. Misra adds some patients are taking their insulin less frequently than prescribed to make the medication last longer.

Numbers from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) say as of 2014, there were 22 million Americans diagnosed with diabetes, up from 5.5 million in 1980.  Diabetes is a disease that results in blood sugar levels being too high, and without the insulin treatment, the patient’s risk of heart attack and stroke is greatly increased.  Type 2 diabetes is the most common.

Experts are saying the reason the cost of insulin is so high is because there is a lack of generic insulin on the market, partially due to drug companies’ long-standing patents on the drug.  In the US, insulin is only manufactured by three companies, Eli Lilly, Sanofi and Novo Nordisk.  According to Dr. Kasia Lipska, an endocrinologist at the Yale School of Medicine, these companies have raised their prices by 168 to 325 percent over the last five years.

A spokeswoman for Eli Lilly, Julie Williams, said the reason there was no generic form of insulin available was due to the billions of dollars required to develop and manufacture insulin, and the deep scientific and technical expertise need to produce the drug.

She adds the expensive cost of the medicine is more complex than just the price list.  New insurance plans, especially with an increase in high-deductible plans, are also contributing to the increased cost to the individual, she continued.

Although a number of low-income diabetics get their medication through Medicaid, Lilly also offers patient-assistance programs to certain people with special financial needs, but Williams also said more solutions are needed to ensure all patients have access to their medicine.

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