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Why is insulin still so expensive for diabetes patients in the U.S.?

0 2 years ago

Nicole Smith-Holt’s son, Alec, died in 2017 from diabetic ketoacidosis, a condition that occurs when the body doesn’t have enough insulin.

Alec had Type 1 diabetes. The 26-year-old had been recently removed from his parent’s health insurance plan and was about $300 short of the $1,300 he needed to pay for his insulin medication, his mother said.

In a bid to wait until his next payday to purchase the medication, he rationed the insulin he had left.

“Unfortunately, his body was found three days prior to payday,” said Smith-Holt, of Richfield, Minnesota.

In the five years since Alec’s death, not much has changed: The high cost of insulin remains a significant barrier to care for many Americans.

A study published this month in the journal Health Affairs found that 14% of people who use insulin in the United States face what is described as a “catastrophic” level of spending on the medication, meaning that after paying for other essentials, such as food and housing, they spend at least 40% of their remaining income on insulin.

The study’s estimate, which covered 2017 and 2018, didn’t include other costs related to diabetes care, such as glucose monitors, insulin pumps or other medications.

Though drugmakers often offer programs that can lower the out-of-pocket cost of insulin for both insured and uninsured patients, the financial burden can still be devastating for some.

People without insurance can shell out hundreds of dollars a month or more for the medication, which usually requires multiple vials per month, said Dr. Robert Gabbay, chief scientist for the American Diabetes Association, an advocacy group for patients with diabetes.

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