The Poetic Diabetic: Insulin Affordability – Why do we Care and What are the Remedies Part 1 4/20/2022

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Welcome back to The Poetic Diabetic.

As you all know, I tend to cover lighter subjects that relate to me more on a personal scale. In this article, which is the first in a series of four blogs, I’ll focus on the past, present, and future of unfair insulin pricing. This article will establish the issue, its effect on the diabetic community, and a brief history of the creation of insulin. I’ve spent countless hours researching this topic as knowledge is critical to strong advocacy, and I hope to share what I have learned with my fellow JDRF readers. These articles will also include hyperlinks connecting readers to the initial pieces of evidence I used when crafting this series.

What’s the matter with insulin prices?

Insulin costs have been on the rise over the past few years. According to a fascinating study from the Mayo Clinic, a single vial of insulin cost an average of twenty-one dollars in 1999. In 2022, a single vial cost over three hundred and fifty dollars. That’s more than a 1500% markup over less than two decades. However, even accounting for inflation it is still costly. Especially when considering that people with diabetes can need up to six vials of insulin a month.

While most people need food, water, and oxygen to survive, people living with diabetes also require insulin. Unfortunately, while there are certain safety nets to ensure people won’t run out of those former three needs, no such net exists for people with diabetes. Often, diabetics, at best, have a lower quality of life due to the stress and cost associated with managing the disease and purchasing the medications. At worst, their lives are cut unfairly short due to the inability to afford their medications.

Why do we care about insulin prices?

One of the most significant struggles diabetics face is simply affording their medication.

Alec Smith was a 26-year-old living with diabetes in Minnesota. He, like many Americans, wasn’t able to maintain the costs incurred from this life-saving medication. Every month, he was forced to pay over $1,300 to buy his insulin, much less any of the devices required alongside it. To cope with these unfair prices, he had to budget his insulin, spreading one vial out over the course of over a month. This, inevitably, pushed him closer and closer to ketoacidosis. He passed away, a healthy and able-body adult, in May of 2017, from a disease that’s been perfectly treatable for a century. Read the full story here.

Alec’s story isn’t an isolated event either. While it’s not common to see people with type 1 diabetes die due to a lack of insulin, they’re still forced to live in constant fear of running out of something as trivial as their job’s healthcare coverage becomes a matter of life or death. Laura Marston is a 36-year-old adult working fifty hours a week who’s coping with type 1 diabetes. According to an interview on BBC news, she was “spending $2,880 a month just to keep (herself) alive”. She ultimately had to give up her essential assets, such as her car, apartment, and dog, to afford those $350 vials of insulin. Read the full story here.

 

History of Insulin

It seems important to introduce the history of insulin to understand the qualms of insulin pricing. Diabetes, named after the Greek word diabetes (meaning siphon), was initially discovered in 1500 BC. However, it was considered a death sentence for four hundred years, killing most patients in under a month. Then, in 1920, Frederick Banting, a Canadian biologist, tested the application of insulin extract on dogs whose pancreas he had removed. One of the tested extracts seemed to work so a biochemist purified it for the first human injection in 1921.

Since Banting wanted this life-saving medicine to be accessible to everyone, he and his co-inventors sold the patent for insulin to the University of Toronto for only a single dollar. He also refused to associate the name of the medicine with his name. These selfless acts eventually managed to get him and the co-inventor Professor Macleod the Nobel prize for physiology and medicine. He did all this so people with diabetes would be able to get this life-saving medicine without being financially burdened. Read the full story here.

Over the past century, these selfless acts of striving for insulin affordability for all afflicted with diabetes have been lost. Instead, prices have continued to soar to a point where insulin insecurity has become a significant topic of discussion. However, there is hope. Supporters are constantly working with our nation’s leaders to improve the quality of life for those affected by T1D until we find a cure. To learn more about how you can become an advocate for those living with diabetes, click here.

 

Conclusion

Thank you for reading this blog! I’m sorry. It’s a bit less uplifting than my previous blog posts. However, I think insulin affordability is a critical issue to discuss, so I’ll be making three more blogs focusing on insulin pricing strategies. My own healthcare experience and potential solutions to insulin affordability. See you next time!