Complicated causes of insulin's rising cost difficult to track down

Bill Grady
January 10, 2019 - 7:52 am

ID 72447491 © Andrey Popov |


The cost to treat diabetes continues to skyrocket along with the number of sufferers in the United States. 

One reason for the increase in the price of insulin is newer, synthetic "human" insulins are more expensive. Ninety-six percent of prescriptions are for so-called "analog" insulins, although recent research suggests cheaper synthetic human insulin works as well for managing diabetes, according to an article in GoodRx.

Manufacturing insulin is more expensive than other drugs. DNA technology is used to engineer insulin-producing bacteria. Generics, called biosimilars, go through a more stringent and expensive FDA approval process than other drugs.

One vial of insulin can cost $300 and a patient may need more than one vial per month.

There are other pricing factors that are bewildering, even to the experts. 

"The drug companies distribute their medication through mid-level distributors that work with insurance companies and the pharmacies involves all sorts of rebates," said Dr. David Robbins, director of the University of Kansas Hospital Diabetes Institute. "It's the most confusing thing I've ever seen."

Some people who stuggle to pay their bills may ration their medication, which is dangerous.

Patients need to educate themselves about their disease, said Dr. William Cefalu, chief scientific and medical officer with the American Diabetes Association.

"Talk to your provider, and see if the provider has any insight into changing to a less-expensive insulin formulation, or re-evaluating your condition," Cefalu said.

The American Diabetes Association has a list of options for financial aid on its website.

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