The EpiPen isn’t the only life-saving medication that has experienced egregious price increases in the past decade; according to a study from the the Journal of the American Medical Association published this spring, prices for insulin are also rising—to such a degree that some Americans with diabetes simply aren’t buying it anymore.
Over 29 million Americans suffer from diabetes and need insulin, according to the American Diabetes Association, and there’s no generic option for any insulin brand. JAMA’s study looked at the prices of insulin from 2002 to 2013. It found that “the mean price of insulin increased from $4.34/mL in 2002 to $12.92/mL in 2013—a 200% increase.” Spending per patient sky-rocketed from about $231 to $736, the study found. A survey of hundreds of people from 40 countries by T1International, a diabetes advocacy group, found that patients in the U.S. pay astronomically more for insulin than people in other countries.
Mylan, the company that sells EpiPens, came under fire this summer when the media caught on to the fact that prices for the life-saving allergy medication have increased 500% over the past 10 years. Mylan has been on a PR blitz to fix its image, first increasing its co-pay savings card for customers and then announcing it will sell a generic version for half the price.
Like the EpiPen increase, the price spike for insulin most affects patients with high-deductible health plans (the number of Americans with HDHPs has been steadily increasing since the passage of the Affordable Care Act). It also hits Medicare patients, particularly those over 60, the age group of the average insulin user, according to the JAMA study.
Local news outlets are reporting that diabetics are taking less insulin than the prescribed amount to “make it stretch,” or taking it only on certain days, which could have serious or fatal health consequences. Others simply aren’t buying insulin at all.
Just three companies produce insulin, and the New York Times reports that the companies have been increasing the price for the drug in tandem over the past few years. “From 2010 to 2015, the price of Lantus (made by Sanofi) went up by 168 percent; the price of Levemir (made by Novo Nordisk) rose by 169 percent; and the price of Humulin R U-500 (made by Eli Lilly) soared by 325 percent,” the Times reports.
A spokeswoman for the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America told CBS News that list prices aren’t fair representations of what patients actually pay.
A petition to Congress to “reduce insulin costs” has over 23,300 signatures so far.