The rising price of insulin
Diabetes is a chronic disease that afflicts 25.8 million Americans. Insulin, one of the primary treatments for diabetes, has been around since the 1920s. Yet, somehow the drug is still priced beyond the reach of many Americans. One of our advocates recently left a comment on our Facebook page regarding this problem, which encouraged us to take a closer look at it.
Medication nonadherence (patients not taking medicine as prescribed) is undeniably related to diabetes-related health complications that result in emergency room visits and lost productivity. Diabetes is an expensive and deadly disease. It is the seventh leading cause of death in the U.S. and cost the country $245 billion last year.
A few big pharmaceutical firms dominate the insulin market due to lengthy patents and lack of generic competition. Insulin is a biologic drug, which means that it is made up of living organisms rather than chemical compounds. This makes it more difficult to copy, which biotech companies often use as justification for the exorbitant prices they charge for the drugs.
We’ve had anecdotal evidence from a consumer of a big price hike on her Humalog insulin this year. When she was trying to find out further information about the price increase, she was told by her insurance company to expect the drug to go up 25 percent more in December. News reports indicate that the cost of Lantus, a top-selling insulin produced by Sanofi, has gone up twice already this year, first 10 and then 15 percent. In addition, Novo Nordisk has also increased the price of Levemir, another common insulin treatment, by 10 percent.
What’s going on here? Overall drug spending is slightly down due to generic drug utilization being up. And generic competition isn’t too far off for many of these drugs. It looks like we have a classic example of pharma executives raising drug prices just for the hell of it! They are jacking the prices to squeeze the most profit out of the drugs—at the consumers expense.
We have heard from many RxRights advocates who are in dire straits because they need continued access to affordable insulin. Normally, we point consumers to Canadian and other international online pharmacies when U.S. drug prices are too much to bear. But importing insulin from other countries at a cheaper price is no longer a good alternative.
Many Canadian pharmacies recently stopped selling insulin to Americans after the FDA sent warning letters to firms like CanaRx (the leading supplier of cheaper medication for Maine residents) regarding concerns that the drug could not be shipped safely. Insulin is a cold chain, or temperature sensitive, product. It must be kept within a certain temperature range when shipped. Critics like the FDA have pointed out that foreign pharmacies can’t effectively control shipping conditions to the point of delivery, meaning that safety can’t be absolutely guaranteed. Unfortunately for American consumers, the response to this criticism has been for many international pharmacies to stop providing insulin to Americans altogether.
Have you recently experienced dramatic increases in the price of your needed medications? Please tell us more about it by commenting below.