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What you need to know: The Insulin Pricing Crisis

All we need in this life of sin is… just insulin. Yeah, yeah, yeah all we need is love. Money and cars are nice. But the 1.2 million Type 1 Diabetics in the United States need insulin. The problem is that a vial of insulin costs more than the adoption fee of TWO dogs. Do you know how many dogs I could have if I didn’t have to buy insulin?*

The cost of insulin has tripled in the United States between 2002 and 2016, making it difficult for even those with insurance to pay the co-pays and deductibles that insulin production companies are charging. These aren’t Balenciaga shoes tripling in price, this is a non-optional drug that keeps people with diabetes alive. So when the prices rise to the point where a diabetics’ utility bills can’t be paid, they find themselves salvaging every. single. unit. Diabetics have had to resort to rationing their supply by skipping doses or cutting their prescribed units. Rationing insulin will eventually lead a diabetic into DKA (diabetic ketoacidosis) because of the insulin depravity in their bodies. The insulin pricing crisis has taken the lives of too many diabetic warriors this way and will continue to if we don’t fight against the pharmaceutical companies jacking up the prices.

I want this post to arm you for the fight against the wrongs in the United States health care system, so you can have the knowledge to bring awareness to the issue and help those being wronged by money-driven pharmaceutical companies.

*I’m very lucky to have good insurance under my parents for the next year until I turn 26 so I don’t pay these crazy costs to the full, though I still pay more than anyone should have to for something that keeps them alive.


What you need to know:

  1. Eli-Lilly & Co., Novo Nordisk, and Sanofi SA are the top three insulin manufacturers raising the prices of insulin

  2. Cost of production for a single vial of insulin is between $2.28 and $3.42 (Business Insider)

  3. A vial of Novo Nordisk’s Novolog went from $289 in 2013 to $540 in 2019 (USA Today)

  4. Insulin is not the same for each diabetic. Some insulin brands work better than others for individual diabetics, and some diabetics have found they are allergic to certain brands.

  5. Insulin is NOT optional

Why Insulin isn’t an Option?

Like a key opening a door, insulin opens the door for cells to take in glucose from our food to be used as energy. Without insulin, the glucose we should be using for energy lingers in the blood resulting in hyperglycemia (high Blood Glucose levels). During hyperglycemia ketones are produced in the body as a way to find an alternative energy source through feeding off fat. But when ketones build up in the blood, they can clog veins as well as challenge the pH balance of the blood, making the body an acidic and toxic environment. In the body’s attempt to fight the acidic levels of the blood, vomiting, frequent urination, thirst all occur. This is called Diabetic Ketoacidosis (DKA) and is what kills Type 1 Diabetics when they don’t have access to insulin.

A lot of diabetics were in DKA upon diagnosis, including myself. When I was diagnosed in 2002, my body hadn’t known insulin for maybe a month and my BG levels were well above 800 mg/dL. I had lost twenty pounds, my eyes were hollow and I was barely conscious. After my diagnosis, I was taught how to administer insulin shots. Drawing the correct units from these little vials that would be ordered every couple months and injecting into my stomach at every meal for my short-acting insulin and every morning for my long-acting insulin. I’ve experienced DKA a handful of times, not always at the same level of severity as the first time but each has been a reminder that Type 1 Diabetes is capable of being fatal. The feeling of dying is all too familiar.

This feeling of DKA is what too many diabetics go through when they can’t afford insulin and have no choice but to go without it. It’s not because they can’t budget or just “don’t have enough money,” it’s because the prices of vial of insulin are so incredibly high that purchasing is like having a second rent.

The History of Insulin Pricing

The first Type 1 Diabetic to receive an insulin injection was in 1922 in Canada after Frederick Banting and Charles Best synthesized the drug at the University of Toronto. The patent of this insulin was sold for $1 U.S dollar because the scientists knew the importance of the world having access to it. They practically handed the patents over to the medical firm Eli Lilly, royalty-free. This means that Banting and Best were not to profit off of their discovery. But don’t you worry, Eli Lilly didn’t pass up the opportunity to monetize the drug.

This was a dramatic event in history because of the amount of lives that were saved within the year of discovery. That feeling of DKA we were talking about earlier? Those fighting ketones were finally given the liquid gold medicine that could bring them back to life. You know that scene at the end of Snow White when the Prince attends Snow White’s funeral, laying a big ole kiss on her corpse and then voila! Birds are singing and life has been returned to her. It was kind of like that. These diabetics had a chance. It’s nearly a century later that diabetics are robbed of the chance at survival when they can’t afford the same liquid gold.

But how are they able to drive up the prices?

Once the patent is 10 years old, a generic version of the drug can be sold in the marketplace. But what pharmaceutical companies discovered (the sneaky thieves) is that if they make just the tiniest tweak in the drugs formula, then the patent renews. Meaning another 10 years must go by before the insulin could go public. By allowing generic versions to be produced, more competition is created and prices could drop. Instead, they keep repeating the process while boosting the price each time. Until ya know, a $1 patent turns into a $500 vial of insulin.

The companies charging these horrendous prices are also aware that diabetics have no choice. We pay or we die.

What can we do to help?

Advocate. Educate. Donate. There are more people living without diabetes than with it, and they have no idea what’s going on or the severity of the situation. Start a conversation! You know how we say we’re tired when we don’t know what else to say? Say you’re tired of insulin prices and drop some knowledge. The more people who know, the more we can fight against the healthcare system in the United States. Those people are signatures, voices, and support.

Write to those in office! Colorado and Illinois have passed laws capping insulin prices in the last year. I know you might feel like your voice won’t be heard, but start with your mayor, your states’ congressman. Google them. You can find so much of their information on the internets.


T1International is a non-profit run by those passionate about helping the lives of people living with Type 1 Diabetes by making insulin affordable and accessible. You can donate towards their cause here.

GoFundMe - did you know that GoFundMe is one of the biggest healthcare providers in the United States right now? This is where people are resorting to, to ask for money to pay for their insulin.



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