Insulin – required by diabetics to live – is a prime example of out of control prescription drug costs and a mercenary delivery system.
People are getting sicker or dying because they cannot afford the drugs they need to treat their illnesses. Rapidly escalating costs – due primarily to a broken delivery system – are putting some drugs out of the financial reach of many people.
This article focuses on Insulin and other diabetes related drugs and devices, but it applies equally for anyone who has a chronic or acute condition, including cancer, Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s, etc., and who relies on specific prescription drugs for treatment.
What Insulin Means For The Diabetic
If you are diabetic, you need insulin. If you are a Type-1 Diabetic, you need it to stay alive.
Humalog Insulin from Lilly, or a similar insulin from any of the other limited number of suppliers, now costs $250 per vial in the U.S. It will soon be $300.
This exact insulin, from the same American manufacturer, now costs $23 in the U.K. Some insulin brands have increased in wholesale price in America by more than 160 percent in the past five years, according to a 2015 Bloomberg Health report.
How Is This Possible?
The answer is our delivery system, with a complex web of people taking a piece of the price paid for drugs. This starts with manufacturers, who long ago covered development costs, and who now set prices based on what they perceive as “the need”, which literally means higher prices if it’s more important to you. It also includes insurance companies, middlemen, and others who use drugs that are critical to keeping people alive and healthy to pad their corporate pockets.
Insurance Covers All This, Right?
Many of us think that “insurance” somehow covers these costs. But, for most Americans, your actual direct costs are directly affected by insurance deductibles, the medicare drug coverage “donut hole”, or co-pays. That means that much, sometimes all, of this money is coming directly out of your pocket – if, of course, you have the necessary money in your pocket. More and more of us are finding ourselves unable to buy the drugs we need to maintain our health.
My Actual Direct Costs
As an example, before my islet transplant, I needed three vials of insulin every month – at current prices this meant $750 per month for this one drug. In addition to that, I needed supplies to inject the insulin into my body, and testing supplies to test my blood sugar before and after each meal (approximately $1.00 per test strip). This meant a total drug and supply cost, for diabetes alone, of about $1,000 per month. About 50% of this (with deductibles and co-pays) was covered by my health insurance, which itself averaged about $1,400 a month. That means about $1,900 per month – $22,800 per year – assuming no extraordinary expenses – just for diabetes. After my islet transplant, immunosuppression drugs are projected to cost about $25,000 per year.
I’ve been employed all my adult life, with varying degrees of insurance coverage. But there were many months when my portion of the diabetic drug expenses were the largest cost in my budget. There were also many times when I had to take money from retirement plans and deplete savings to pay these monthly costs. Luckily, for me, there was money there. For many, there isn’t.
If You Don’t Have Diabetes, Why Should You Care?
You should care because this situation affects everyone, not just diabetics, and every drug, not just insulin. Eventually, you are going to get sick – cancer, diabetes, or any of the other serious health situations that happen to all of us eventually in our lives. You may lose your job, or be forced to take a high deductible insurance plan.
When that happens, you can quickly find yourself in financial trouble. But irrespective of your personal situation, the drugs you need are going to cost substantially more than they should, and this cost can end up bankrupting you. We are the only modern country in the world where trying to stay healthy can result in losing your home, your savings, and your future!
What Can We Do?
Our ability to live or die shouldn’t depend on our ability to pay for the drugs we need to stay healthy. We pay taxes our entire lives, even after retirement. We need to get the insurance companies and middlemen out of the drug business, and out of our pockets.
Elect Those Who You Believe Are Going To Make This Better
Your congressperson and senators are the only people who can change this system. I will not vote for anyone who does not have a plan to provide help. You’ll obviously make your own choice, but consider carefully before voting for anyone who wants to privatize or eliminate prescription drug coverage. The affect on your life, and all of our lives, can potentially be staggering.
In my mind, there is no single issue more important to our long term financial future, and to our long term health.