Nearly 30 million Americans have been diagnosed with diabetes, and over 7 million of them rely on a daily dose of insulin, including almost 1.9 million living with Type 1. For them, access to insulin is a matter of life and death, but as the Guardian reports, a recent study published in the Annals of Internal Medicine shows that some 1.3 million Americans were forced to skip, delay, or decrease their use of the drug due its exorbitant price, which has skyrocketed in the past two decades. For example, the cost for a single vial of one common brand rose from $21 in 1999 to $332 in 2019, or about $1,000 per month for a typical Type 1 patient.
Per USA Today, one study coauthor said insulin rationing is "very, very worrisome to doctors … If people have poorly controlled diabetes ... they end up with lots of complications and earlier death." According to NBC News, the Inflation Reduction Act—signed by President Biden in August—will cap monthly insulin costs at $35 for seniors on Medicare. For others, health insurance can help, but it still leaves many paying hundreds per month. For the millions of uninsured and underinsured—including those who make too much to qualify for Medicaid or are too young for Medicare—rationing is the only option, short of skipping out on rent or going hungry.
Study lead Dr. Adam Gaffney of Cambridge Health Alliance told NBC that "universal access to insulin, without cost barriers, is urgently needed," and he blames Big Pharma for the problem. A researcher from the Mayo Clinic backed that assertion, noting that a few big companies control the US market and have successfully suppressed generic alternatives. Potential relief is on the horizon, with a bipartisan bill sitting in the Senate aimed at reducing out-of-pocket expenses. California is trying to tackle the problem on its own, announcing a "$100 million low-cost insulin manufacturing gamble" last summer, per the California Globe, which notes the plan was short on details and faces numerous challenges. (Read more insulin stories.)