The American Diabetes Association says the average price of insulin tripled between 2002 and 2013. That’s sending many Americans to Canada, where they pay up to ten times less per vial. It’s also causing diabetics in this country to skip doses or ration their insulin, which can mean serious complications or death. The FDA allows it if it’s for personal use and a three month supply or less.
Adam Kozie, his wife, and cats Zelda and Geo live in Seattle.
Adam is an insulin-dependent diabetic. His cost of a vial of insulin shot up from 40 to 135 dollars, even though he has insurance.
“I was exasperated, paying so much for my drugs. I need this to keep myself alive,” Kozie shared.
Adam’s doctor, Irl Hirsch, MD, Professor of Medicine at the University of Washington School of Medicine, told him he could drive to Canada, save money and get more than the one month supply.
“That’s a huge benefit, to being able to buy in Canada without a prescription, is that I have a fridge full of insulin right now. If something goes wrong, I have a huge supply of the thing that I need to stay alive,” Kozie continued.
Dr. Hirsch said, “It just infuriates me to no end that this drug that we’ve had for almost 100 years is inaccessible for so many people.”
A diabetic himself, Dr. Hirsch has studied insulin prices for decades. He says Humalog went from 24 dollars a vial when it came out in 1996 to 300 dollars full retail now. People can get Humalog in Canada for 32 dollars Canadian.
“That means they’re making money on that 30 dollar vial of insulin, which in the U.S. at retail cost is ten times that price,” Dr. Hirsch shared.
He says the difference is Canada regulates drug costs, the U.S. does not.
Dr. Hirsch continued, “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.”
He’ll keep fighting until insulin is accessible and affordable.
Dr. Hirsch hopes change is coming. Several insulin makers are named in a class action suit for alleged price fixing. The companies themselves are launching programs to make insulin more affordable especially for the three point two million uninsured Americans. Patients do have another option now in the U.S.: they can buy less expensive human or synthetic insulin for as little as 25 dollars at Walmart. But it’s an older insulin and may act differently. Talk to your doctor before making a switch.
Contributors to this news report include: Wendy Chioji, Field Producer; Roque Correa, Editor; and Rusty Reed, Videographer.