How to Save Money on Insulin
By Elise Seyfried
In 1922, the average life expectancy after a diabetes diagnosis was one year. But then, three Canadian doctors discovered that by injecting insulin (the hormone made in the pancreas to control blood glucose levels) from animals into humans, diabetes could be effectively managed. For many years, this life-saving hormone was available at a reasonable price—even after synthetic human insulin began to be mass produced in the 1970s.
Today, with more than 30 million Americans living with diabetes, the price of insulin is jumping every year. The average list price has more than tripled since 2002, in some cases much more. Fifteen years ago a 20-milliliter vial of Humulin R U-500 cost a patient $175. Today, that same vial costs almost $1500.
Reasons for this dramatic increase are partly due to drugmakers providing rebates to pharmacy benefit managers (PBMs). The drugmakers set high list prices, which then must be paid out of pocket by uninsured patients. A working group from the American Diabetes Association found that as of 2018 there is no one agreed-upon price for any insulin formulation. The final cost to the patient results from the prices negotiated among the many stakeholders involved.
For too many people with diabetes, the astronomical cost has forced them to ration their insulin. Cutting doses, taking doses less often, or not filling prescriptions at all, can be fatal. Fortunately, there are ways to combat the high price of staying well with diabetes.
Shopping around can help; prices of insulin vary from pharmacy to pharmacy. And there are bargains to be had, starting with the FamilyWize discount prescription card. Start your search with our Pricing Lookup Tool to find your savings. You can’t use our discount with insurance, but our cost can help you save if you’re paying out of pocket.
There are also various assistance programs through the three companies that produce insulin. These offer short-term help for those with financial need, so you must meet eligibility requirements. These include Eli Lilly’s LillyCares, Sanofi’s Patient Connection, and NovoCare from Novo Nordisk.
Your doctor may have prescribed a long-acting insulin, which is usually more expensive than shorter-acting. It may be less convenient to have to inject shorter-acting insulin twice a day instead of once, but the cost savings can be significant. Talk to him or her about the benefits to both your health and your wallet.
Another alternative is the first generic version of insulin, which went on the market in May. Insulin Lispro, an authorized generic of Humalog 100, produced by Eli Lilly, sells for 50% less than the brand-name version.
Finally, careful attention to diet and exercise can reduce the amount of insulin needed. Eliminating refined carbohydrates (soda, cookies, chips), and adding walking or other physical activity to your daily routine can help lower blood sugar naturally.
Living with diabetes is challenging enough without worrying about paying for the medication needed. Adjusting your lifestyle, and exploring savings options, can yield big dividends.
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