Adding Insulin to Injury: Rising Medical Bills for Type 1 Diabetics

by Vins
Published: Updated:

The cost of medical bills for citizens suffering from the life-threatening disease, Type 1 diabetes, is an escalating crisis in the US. An estimated three million Type 1 diabetics cannot afford necessary care, and President Trump’s recent claims to fix the problem have not been convincing.

Type 1 diabetes can be treated with access to adequate funds for insulin, a hormone lacking in diabetics that carries sugars to the cells to produce energy. According to the American Diabetes Association, Type 1 diabetics’ health care costs are 2.3 times that of non-diabetics

One of the major pharmaceutical companies that produces insulin is Eli Lilly and Company, which was among the first to produce insulin after its discovery. In January, 2018, the US Senate confirmed Alex Azar as the Secretary of Human Health and Services. Azar had been the president of Lilly USA during a period when insulin prices increased dramatically–so much so that Mike Ludwig of Truthout reported, “Eli Lilly and Co. raised the price of Humalog, a fast-acting form of insulin, from $2,657 per year to $9,172 from 2009 to 2017: a 345 percent increase.”

Although many news reports have covered President Trump’s promises to reduce the cost of insulin, with Azar in charge of Health and Human Services, there are reasons to believe that this is unlikely.

In order to fully understand the insulin crisis in the United States, it is important to compare US pharmaceutical prices to those of other countries. For example, according to a T1 International survey, Humalog, a rapid-acting insulin, costs $69 in Chile $69 but $435 in the US.

Corporate media have not emphasized how insulin was originally intended to be available to the public. The inventor of insulin, Frederick Banting, sold the patent for it for just $1 for its patent rights because, in his words, “insulin does not belong to me. It belongs to the world.”

Far from Banting’s original vision, today Eli Lilly and the pharmaceutical industry have the power to determine prices, and ultimately decide the fates of Type 1 diabetics. However, as Nicole Smith-Holt wrote in Truthout, “The pharmaceutical companies that sell insulin won’t disclose any details, but it is likely that this same [$300 dollar] vial is manufactured for just a few dollars.”

Sources:

Mark Ludwig, “‘Cheated and Lied To’: How Insurers and Manufacturers Mask the Truth About High Drug Prices,” Truthout, December 11, 2017, http://www.truth-out.org/news/item/42873-cheated-and-lied-to-how-insurers-and-manufacturers-mask-the-truth-about-high-drug-prices.

Cheryl Olson, “Sugarland: As Diabetes Rate Skyrockets, So Does Cost of Insulin,” WNYC, March 7, 2018, https://www.wnyc.org/story/sugarland-diabetes-rate-skyrockets-so-does-cost-insulin/.

Nicole Smith-Holt, “I Had to Bury My 26-Year-Old Son Because He Couldn’t Afford Insulin,” Truthout, February 1, 2018, http://www.truth-out.org/opinion/item/43397-i-had-to-bury-my-26-year-old-son-because-he-couldn-t-afford-insulin.

Student Researcher: Emily Hellman (University of Vermont)

Faculty Advisor: Rob Williams (University of Vermont)