- The cost of insulin has steadily increased for the past few years. This rise in price is disproportionate to annual inflation and poses a threat to people living with diabetes who cannot afford to pay for these increased prices but nevertheless need insulin to survive.
- The price of insulin depends on what type of insulin you receive: human insulin or insulin analogs. Human insulin has the same chemical structure as the insulin normally found in our bodies and ranges anywhere from $25-$100 per vial. Comparatively, insulin analogs mimic the effect of insulin in our bodies but are not chemically identical to human insulin. These drugs are often more expensive, ranging anywhere between $174-$300.
- Just because you are uninsured does not mean you have to front the entire out-of-pocket cost. Governmental programs and Patient Assistance Programs exist to help; however, you must qualify based on income, state, and insulin type. MiraRx can help you access insulin for an affordable price.
What factors determine the cost of insulin?
Between 2001 and 2018, the average list price of insulin increased 11% annually. This equates to average annual per capita insulin costs nearing $6000.
Since a patient's out-of-pocket costs are based on the list price, consumers have undoubtedly felt the burden of these price increases.
Diabetes patients’ need for insulin to survive is indisputably one of the largest determinants of insulin cost. Insulin and insulin analogs are the only drugs able to save the lives of diabetes patients; therefore, consumers' need for these drugs to stay alive gives way to high pricing for profits.
In other words, since diabetic patients have no other options, they have no other choice but to pay the price that the stakeholders set.
The four primary factors in the pricing of insulin vials are as follows:
- Pharmaceutical Companies
- Insurance Companies
- Pharmacy Benefit Managers
- The Government
The so-called “Big Three” pharmaceutical companies that produce 90% of the insulin available on the market are Eli Lilly, Novo Nordisk, and Sanofi Aventis.
Insurance companies will determine how much you pay out of pocket, depending on your type of plan and what cost-sharing policies are in place.
For instance, those with more comprehensive insurance plans (or insurance supplements such as Mira) are likely to spend less than people who have high deductibles.
The government plays a role by regulating pharmaceutical patents and FDA approvals.
Patent regulation is a key component of how insulin prices remain high because insulin patents are continually renewed by the government, preventing generics from entering the market to compete, and thereby keeping prices high.
Below is a diagram to help you make sense of this complicated system.
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Source: Beyond Type 1
How much does insulin cost without insurance?
The most commonly used forms of insulin cost 10x more in the United States than in any other developed country (~$100 in the USA vs. ~$10 in most other countries).
This represents a public health crisis on multiple fronts as there exist countless anecdotes of patients who have died of diabetes-related complications because they could not afford insulin and tried to ration their doses.
Research indicates that insulins are generally available at the pharmacy for $25-$100 per vial, while human insulin analogs can cost anywhere between $174-$300.
Depending on the state, income, and insulin type, many who are uninsured may qualify for governmental assistance programs (e.g. Medicare) or patient assistance programs (PAPs).
Still, others may not qualify and will have to pay for the full price of insulin. Taking into account that many people require several vials of insulin per month, the cost of diabetes management is exceedingly high, especially for those living without an insurance plan.
Outlined below are several companies and their prices per insulin vial:
|Insulin Name||Price Per Unit||Price Per Vial|
|Humulin 70/30 vial (10 mL; 100 iU/mL)||$0.18||$182.18 per vial|
|Humulin 70/30 KwikPen (3 mL; 100 iU/mL)||$0.39||$116.84 per KwikPen|
|Novolin 70/30 FlexPen (100 iU/mL)||$0.12||$184.78 per carton of 5 pens|
|Novolin 70/30 vial (10 mL vial; 100 iU/mL)||$0.10||$96.02 per vial|
|Novolin R vial (10 mL; 100 iU/mL)||$0.09||$93.70 per vial|
|Novolin R FlexPen (3 mL; 100 iU/mL)||$0.10||$154.51 per carton of 5 pens|
|Humulin R vial (20 mL; 500 iU/mL)||$0.18||$1,817.56 per vial|
|Humulin R vial (10 mL; 100 iU/mL)||$0.19||$185.27 per vial|
|Humulin R KwikPen (3 mL; 500 iU/mL)||$0.24||$712.38 per carton of 2 pens|
How much does insulin cost with insurance?
Buying insulin with insurance is markedly cheaper than being uninsured, but the cost is still non-negligible and depends on your exact plan.
In fact, the Health Care Cost Institute determined that insulin alone costs approximately $6,000 annually for a single person living with diabetes protected under employer-sponsored healthcare insurance.
This represents approximately 30% of the total $18,500 diabetes patients spend in total for diabetes-related care, which can include non-insulin prescriptions, inpatient care, and professional care.
Insulin prices are on the rise, but this does not mean that uninsured diabetes patients should skip doses
For the past few years, the price of insulin has skyrocketed — due in large part to the extended monopoly a handful of companies have over insulin manufacturing.
While annual out-of-pocket costs are expected to rise with inflation, the annual price increases for insulin are disproportionate to overall inflation. Studies demonstrate that diabetes is the most expensive chronic disease in the United States, costing more than $327 billion in 2017.
With the Covid-19 pandemic, more Americans are experiencing coverage gaps and uninsurance. Coupled with the rise in insulin prices, the financial cost of diabetes is perhaps more serious now than ever before.
While skipping insulin may seem like an immediate solution, rationing doses is not a proper, nor medically advisable technique for diabetes management.
In fact, skipping doses can lead to more serious diabetes-related health issues, such as diabetes ketoacidosis, costing the consumer more out of pocket in the long run.
What should I do if I can't afford insulin?
Just because you are uninsured does not mean you have to front the entire out-of-pocket cost. Governmental programs and Patient Assistance Programs exist to help; however, you must qualify based on income, state, and insulin type. If you do not qualify for these programs, however, you may have to pay the entire out-of-pocket cost for insulin vials.
You can also see how much insulin costs near you by using MiraRx.
Read more about how to manage diabetes without insurance.