The cost to patients of insulin has increased dramatically over the last decade. Insulin is essential for individuals with both Type 1 and Type 2 diabetes whose bodies cannot properly produce and store glucose without daily insulin administration. And the number of individuals who depend on the drug is growing as obesity increases in the US. Among Medicare beneficiaries, the number of individuals using insulin nearly doubled from 2007 to 2016, from 1.6 million to 3.1 million–an 86% increase.
Not only are more Medicare beneficiaries using insulin, but a recent analysis from the Kaiser Family Foundation found that, from 2007 to 2017, total Medicare spending on insulin increased 840%, from $1.4 billion to $13.3 billion. Total out-of-pocket spending on insulin quadrupled during the same time period, as per-person annual spending jumped from $324 in 2007 to $588 in 2017.
Insulin has been around since the 1920s and not much about it has changed, except it’s ever-growing price. As a whole the US makes up about 15 percent of the global insulin market, yet it generates nearly half of the pharmaceutical industry’s insulin revenue. Three pharmaceutical companies who manufacture most insulin products–Sanofi, Novo Nordisk, and Eli Lilly–control the market and some experts say they increase prices simply because they can.
Due at least in part to public outcries, lawmakers and industry leaders have been under pressure to control prices. In April, the insurer Cigna announced a plan to cap the monthly insulin cost to consumers at $25 per patient. The program would affect around 700,000 patients – less than 1% of persons living with diabetes in the US. The same month Sanofi also announced they would reduce the cost of insulin to $99/month for some people who don’t have insurance. But consumers and lawmakers know piecemeal solutions won’t work. At a recent Congressional hearing, pharmaceutical company executives took questions from outraged lawmakers. “I don’t know how you sleep at night,” one Representative remarked, “I just want you to know your days are numbered.”
Last month, a new grassroots campaign called Affordable Insulin Now was launched to raise awareness and pressure the pharmaceutical industry to take action. Until they do, desperate diabetics continue to ration insulin, struggling to stay alive.
Databyte via Juliette Cubanski et al., How Much Does Medicare Spend on Insulin? Kaiser Family Foundation, 2 Apr. 2019.