“At age 15, I suddenly felt an unquenchable thirst and began urinating frequently. I lost 20 pounds. I had developed Type 1 diabetes, an autoimmune disease that destroyed my body’s ability to produce insulin,” Dr. David M. Tridgell wrote at The Washington Post not long ago. “Without insulin, I would have eventually developed a condition called diabetic ketoacidosis, which is lethal without (and even sometimes with) treatment. Years later, I’m a practicing endocrinologist. I could never have imagined back when I first started taking insulin that one day I would have so many patients who could not afford the medication because of skyrocketing prices. When the drug was discovered in 1921, the original patent was sold to the University of Toronto for $1 so that no one else could patent it and ‘secure a profitable monopoly.’ Numerous improvements later, insulin is produced by a three-company oligopoly. When the first of the newer insulin ‘analogs,’ Humalog, hit the market in 1996, it sold for $21 a vial. Today, vials of analog insulins, including Humalog, sell for about $300 . Patients with Type 1 diabetes typically require two or three vials of insulin per month, but patients who are more resistant to insulin, such as those with Type 2 diabetes, may require six or more. A recent paper in the Journal of the American Medical Association found that insulin nearly tripled in cost from 2002 to 2013. A lawsuit filed in January accuses pharmaceutical companies of price collusion for allegedly raising insulin prices repeatedly and in lockstep to match their competitors. … Because insulin is so expensive, some people take less than their prescribed dose, causing higher blood sugars, which may lead to preventable, very expensive complications such as kidney failure, blindness, amputation, heart attacks or even death. …Too many people with diabetes are still going without proper medical care. One of my patients, whom I’ll call “Joe” to protect his identity, lost his insurance, then developed ketoacidosis, a buildup of acid in his blood, because he couldn’t afford to pay $600 monthly for two vials of insulin. He didn’t die, but he required a costly stay in an intensive-care unit.” Dr. David M. Tridgell, “Insulin is too expensive for many of my patients. It doesn’t have to be,” The Washington Post.
Jeanne Pinder is the founder and CEO of ClearHealthCosts. She worked at The New York Times for almost 25 years as a reporter, editor and human resources executive, then volunteered for a buyout and founded... More by Jeanne Pinder