Pharma’s inexcusable pricing of insulin

  • A study showing that one in four insulin-treated patients surveyed at an urban US diabetes center were found to be cutting back on insulin use because of cost has been published.
  • The survey results also reveal that cost-related insulin underuse was associated with worse glycemic control and that more than a third of patients did not discuss the insulin underuse with their clinicians.
  • Of those who completed the survey, 25.5% (51) reported cost-related insulin underuse.

According to the JAMA Network “Of 354 eligible patients (184 [52.0%] women, 191 [54.0%] white, 123 [34.8%] type 1 diabetes), 199 (56.2%) completed the survey (101 [50.8%] women, 121 [60.8%] white, 83 [41.7%] type 1 diabetes). Of these patients, 51 (25.5%) reported cost-related insulin underuse. The type of prescription drug coverage was not significantly associated with cost-related underuse. Patients with cost-related underuse were more likely to report lower incomes; [60.8%] of these patients discussed the cost of insulin with their clinician and 15 [29.4%] changed insulin type owing to cost. Patients who reported cost-related underuse (vs those who did not) were more likely to have poor glycemic control in the multivariable analysis (22 [43.1%] vs 41 [28.1%]; odds ratio = 2.96; 95% CI, 1.14-8.16; P = .03). Of the 199 patients, 2 had missing HbA1c levels.

What is behind these numbers?  Diabetics who are putting their lives in danger because they can’t afford insulin.  Between 2002 and 2013, the average price for this life-saving, injectable drug used by nearly 10 million Americans with diabetes has tripled, according to the American Diabetes Association (ADA). “No one who relies on insulin should have to wonder if they’ll be able to afford it,” the ADA asserts in an online petition for its Stand Up for Affordable Insulin campaign.

The cost of a vial of the short-acting insulin lispro (Humalog) increased 585% (from $35 to $234) between 2001 and 2015. By January of 2017, it reached $270, according to the drug-price website During the same time, the price of a vial of human insulin rose 555%, from $20 to $131, according to endocrinologist Irl B. Hirsch, MD, a professor of medicine at the University of Washington. And by January 2017, it hit $147 according to

Why can’t pharma step forward to help people who can’t afford insulin?  Why hasn’t a CEP said “we will find a way to make sure you never have to ration insulin?”    To say that this is inexcuseable is a huge understatement but for pharma it’s business as usual.