Skyrocketing insulin prices have some diabetics rationing medicine

HOUSTON – As many as 7 million diabetics in the United States require insulin to maintain their health, but the rising costs of the necessary medication are forcing some patients to make tough choices.

According to the American Diabetes Association, the average prices of insulin tripled between 2002 and 2013.

Adam Kozie is a diabetic who said the cost of a vial of insulin went from $40 to $135 even with insurance.

“I was exasperated, paying so much for my drugs,” Kozie said. “I need this stuff to keep myself alive.”

Kozie’s physician, Dr. Irl Hirsch, who is a diabetic himself, has studied insulin prices for decades.

“It just infuriates me to no end that this drug that we’ve had for almost 100 years is inaccessible for so many people,” Hirsch said.

Hirsch said that part of the problem is that the United States does not regulate drug costs. He said another reason is that there is no low-cost generic version of the drug. He said drug companies continually make adjustments to the drug to ensure it is less likely to trigger dangerous low blood sugar episodes. However, he said, those adjustments cost millions of dollars to develop and keep the pricey brands under patent protection.

“We are now hearing of not just hospitalizations for people who have rationed or run out of their insulin, but now, this year, we are hearing of deaths,” Hirsch said.

There is a class-action lawsuit that accuses some drug makers of price fixing. Some drug companies have also launched programs to make the drug more affordable.

Some patients can purchase a less expensive human or synthetic insulin for as little as $25 from Walmart. However, that drug is an older version and some patients may not tolerate it well. Patients should talk to their doctor before making the switch.

Diabetics without insurance or without drug coverage should look into applying for a patient assistance program.