The High Cost of Insulin: The Problem and The Solution

Posted June 3, 2019 by Mitch Fraker - See Editorial Guidelines

Everyone who has to take insulin has the same response: “Why are insulin prices so high? Isn’t this a really old drug?”

Insulin

A Short History of Insulin

In 1923, inventor Frederick Banting discovered insulin. He understood the importance of what he’d found so well, he refused to put his name on his invention. His co-inventors, James Collip and Charles Best, sold the patent for insulin to the University of Toronto for $1.

The Price of Insulin Today

In the early 2000s, a 20ml vial of Humulin R U-500, a long-acting insulin, cost about $176. Today, that same vial is nearly $1500! For much of its history, insulin wasn’t profitable enough for generic manufacturers to get involved. That means that most of the supplies in the country are still only being manufactured by the big three pharma companies, Sanofi, Eli Lilly, and Novo Nordisk.

As the number of Americans that need insulin has risen significantly in the past decade, so have the prices. The prices have gone up so quickly that even politicians, usually loathe to take on the drug companies, have started looking for ways to lower the costs. Proposals ranging from price restrictions to seizure of patents in the public interest have been floated.

In Colorado, the Legislature and the Governor have responded to the problem with a unique solution: They have restricted a patient’s out of pocket expense to $100, regardless of how much insulin a patient uses or how much it costs. Insurance companies are now forced to pay the rest of the cost.

As part of the Colorado bill, the Attorney General is to launch an investigation into why insulin prices are so high and have been climbing so quickly.

Gov. Jared Polis said, “Today we will finally declare that the days of insulin price gouging are over in Colorado.”

According to a statistic from Vox,  “the US is a global outlier on money spent on the drug, representing only 15 percent of the global insulin market and generating almost half of the pharmaceutical industry’s insulin revenue.”

Think about that: Only 15% of the people who need it are paying 50% of the cost!

Why the Price of Insulin is Rising

 One of the most significant reasons that prices are so high in the US is because there is very little regulation over the costs. Many countries, including every other industrialized nation, have single-payer healthcare, also known as universal healthcare, and governments can help to control costs. In fact, it’s in the best interest of those programs to keep costs under control.

The American free market approach is not necessarily helpful in this case simply because there are only three major players and no central, powerful price negotiator.

The Patent Problem

 Every year or two, the pharmaceutical companies will issue new, improved insulins. While these insulins are not necessarily significantly better for all users, they are covered by patents which means that there is no generic version.

Further, over 90% of all patients are prescribed these new insulins, forcing them to only have access to these newer versions.

With each incarnation, the price of the insulin gets higher. The drug companies insist that this is to cover the costs of research and testing, while detractors point out that often the base formulas have not changed significantly enough to force a lot of testing and corresponding massive price increases.

The Future of Insulin Prices

Under the current US system, there is no incentive for manufacturers to reduce prices and to restrict growth in prices.

Some larger insurance companies may be able to negotiate some pricing, but that effect is limited due to the state by state insurance system in the US.

The Solution to High Prices

There are only a few solutions available to people who are paying too much money for their insulin:

  1. Move to Colorado. That’s the only state where there are restrictions on the out of pocket expenses of insured people.
  2. Negotiate with the drug company. Each drug company offers a patient a discounted rate if they prove income requirements and jump through hoops.
  3. Prescription Hope handles it. For just $50 a month, you can get whatever you need for insulin.

The difference with Prescription Hope is that we handle the pharmaceutical companies. This way, you don’t have to keep negotiating with the drug companies every time your prescription changes or they change their formula. Insulin is expensive and is going to keep getting expensive. It’s unlikely that any large scale government action will happen any time soon. Let Prescription Hope help by getting you the same medications for just $50 a month. We handle all of the paperwork with the pharmaceutical manufacturer and you get what you need. Visit us online to learn more and get started.



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