The American Diabetes Association estimates that about 34.2 million Americans, or 10.5 percent of the population, has diabetes. If that sounds scary, consider that an estimated 7.3 million of those people are currently undiagnosed and experiencing the damage caused by high blood sugar.
Insulin is the most commonly prescribed treatment for patients with type 1 diabetes and type 2 diabetes in addition to lifestyle changes, but rising drug prices have been a major concern in the health care industry in recent years, with insulin prices stretching outside of general affordability regardless of what insurance plan a patient may be on.
Newly diagnosed patients may be wondering what average price and pocket costs may be for insulin, and may be concerned about the affordability of this life saving prescription drug. People with diabetes either do not produce enough insulin or are resistant to its effects, so many people diagnosed with the disease rely on injections of insulin to regulate their insulin levels. While the insulin market prices are on the rise, it is possible to find lower prices and more reasonable drug costs if you know where to look.
What is diabetes?
Diabetes is a relatively common condition that affects more than 10 percent of Americans. When we eat, our bodies begin to break down food into sugar, scientifically called glucose. This sugar is released into the bloodstream, causing our blood sugar to rise. Under normal circumstances, the pancreas is triggered to release a substance called insulin, which directs the body to use the sugar in your blood for energy. However, patients with diabetes either do not make enough insulin or cannot use insulin properly. When our bodies are unable to use insulin effectively, our blood sugar levels stay elevated, causing dangerous health effects. When people experience high blood glucose regularly over a period of time, serious health conditions can occur. Serious conditions and complications associated with high blood glucose include:
- Increased risk of kidney disease
- Damage to the blood vessels of the eyes (retinopathy)
- Increased risk of heart problems like heart disease
- Nerve damage in the feet and hands (neuropathy)
What is insulin?
Insulin is a hormone that helps to regulate the body’s metabolic processes. Insulin directs the cells in our body, including in the muscles, liver, and fat, to use the glucose in the blood, which comes from the food we eat. Under normal circumstances, the body uses glucose as energy and converts extra glucose into fat if needed. Insulin is made by the pancreas and keeps the amount of glucose in the bloodstream from getting too high or too low. When our blood sugar levels are too high, it is called hyperglycemia, while blood sugar levels that are too low are called hypoglycemia. Under the direction of insulin, excess blood sugar is stored in the liver to be released if your blood sugar dips too low, such as during a period of exercise or in between meals. People with diabetes do not produce enough insulin or are resistant to insulin; in both cases, their ability to process glucose in the body is severely impacted.
How much does a prescription drug like insulin cost?
You may have heard about the rising cost of insulin in the news, as price increases even among generic versions seems to be a hot topic. Diabetes care costs the United States more than 327 billion dollars per year, and average costs continue to rise as more people struggle to manage their diabetes. Of the 34.2 million Americans with diabetes, an estimated 7.4 million use one or more forms of insulin products to manage their disease. While there is often blame on insurance companies, pharmaceutical companies, and drugmakers when it comes to seemingly excessive drug pricing, it’s important to note that there are actually only three insulin manufacturers in the U.S., (Sanofi, Eli Lilly, and Novo Nordisk) and which is one of the major contributing factors towards these price hikes even across different biosimilar insulin products like insulin pens, insulin lispro (brand name Humalog), and long-acting insulin.
Of the four main types of insulin, the average United States list price of insulin was found to increase by 15 to 17 percent between 2012 and 2016. Overall, insulin prices tripled between 2002 and 2013. Human insulins are typically less expensive than human insulin analogs; human insulins can be purchased for 25 to 100 dollars per vial, while human insulin analogs are purchased for 174 to 300 dollars per vial. The amount of insulin vials required per month depends on the type of diabetes a patient has. Patients with Type 1 diabetes typically require two to three vials of insulin per month, while those who are resistant to insulin, including patients with Type 2 diabetes who treat their condition with insulin, may require six or more vials per month to keep their blood sugar in check.
How can I reduce my insulin costs?
If you’re feeling overwhelmed by the rising cost of insulin, you are not alone.
Even with rebates, patient assistance programs, and generic insulin, the overall price of insulin and insulin products, high-deductible or high copay insurance coverage, restrictions in medicare and medicaid, and much, much more are stiff obstacles for patients to overcome.
Fortunately, there are lower-cost options available to patients who need insulin to manage their diabetes.
According to the American Diabetes Association, patients should speak to their doctors about whether the use of older human insulins, as opposed to the more expensive human insulin analogs, might be appropriate for the treatment of their diabetes, as the older medications are substantially less expensive.
Each of the major insulin makers also offers insulin savings programs or patient assistance programs to qualifying patients to help with affordability despite the rising cost of insulin, although patients must meet certain conditions such as having a particular type of health insurance or health plan.
There are also pharmacy discount card programs like USA Rx which also offer savings on all FDA-approved brand name and generic medications, including both the human insulin and analog insulin forms of the drug, which can result in substantial savings for cardholders when it comes to drug costs, especially in terms of pocket costs.
If you are concerned about the affordability of your insulin products, talk to your healthcare team about options and consider joining a pharmacy discount card program like USA Rx.
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Diabetic.org is devoted to producing expert and accurate articles and information for our readers by hiring experts, journalists, medical professionals, and our growing Diabetic.org community. We encourage you to read more about our content, editing, and fact checking methods here. This was fact checked by Erik Rivera and medically reviewed by Dr. Angel Rivera.
Owner, entrepreneur, and consumer health enthusiast.