The Spiking Cost of Insulin Is Highway Robbery

Photo: AP

A new Health Care Cost Institute study to be released next week found the cost of insulin per patient almost doubled between 2012 and 2016, according to Reuters. The average annual insulin cost for a type 1 diabetes patient was $5,705 in 2016 compared to $2,864 in 2012. (The vast majority of people with diabetes have type 2.)

The figure includes the cost paid by insurance, but how much a patient pays varies greatly depending on their plan. If they have good insurance, great. If they have shitty insurance, they might have to meet a huge deductible before their plan pays anything. If they have no insurance, good luck! According to GoodRx, the most popular kind of insulin costs $286 at Walgreens for a 30-day supply. The bottom line: When costs double, insurance isn’t going to eat that whole increase. Patients will pay more, too.

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And these prices aren’t going up because of some amazing, expensive developments in the market or because so many more people are using the drug. Per Reuters:

“It’s not that individuals are using more insulin or that new products are particularly innovative or provide immense benefits,” Jeannie Fuglesten Biniek, a senior researcher at HCCI and the report’s co-author said in a phone interview.

“Use is pretty flat, and the price changes are occurring in both older and newer products. That surprised me. The exact same products are costing double,” she said.

The exact same products are now costing double. Why? Profit and greed. There’s no other explanation for doubling the price of the same drug; inflation is not 200 percent, nor are labor or production costs twice as high as they were five years ago.

These decisions kill people. People literally die because they can’t afford insulin (and other necessary drugs and medical care). As the Washington Post reported in a feature about patients who rely on insulin earlier this month:

What Alec soon learned was just how much his insulin would end up costing: more than $1,000 a month. The price of insulin — once modest — has skyrocketed in recent years, making the lifesaving medication a significant, even burdensome, expense, especially for the uninsured and underinsured. The costs are so heavy that they have driven some patients to ration their supplies of the drug in a dangerous gamble with life-threatening consequences.

At the time Alec discussed skipping insurance coverage, he told his mother, “It can’t be that bad.” Within a month of going off her policy, he would be dead.

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Let’s be clear: The proposition that the current healthcare system, in which pharmaceutical companies withhold drugs people need to live until patients pay hundreds of dollars, is extortion. “Give us the money or you’ll die” is not all that different from “give us the money or I’ll shoot you in the head.” The only difference between this and an armed robber holding your drugs unless you hand over your wallet is that an armed robber doesn’t have a $450 million lobbying group in Washington.

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About the author

Libby Watson

Splinter politics writer. libby.watson@splinternews.com