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Millions struggle to meet inhumane costs of insulin in America with their lives on the line

Approximately 35 million Americans have diabetes with a third of them requiring insulin to keep their blood sugar levels in check.

Millions struggle to meet inhumane costs of insulin in America with their lives on the line
Image source: Left: Cropped image of businesswoman holding injection pen while sitting at office desk - stock photo/Getty Images Right: Twitter/@DoreenRudolph3

Nowhere in the world is life-saving insulin as costly as it is in America. Insulin prices are 8 times higher in the US than in 32 comparable, high-income nations combined, as per a RAND Corporation study. Having access to life-saving medical care should be a basic right. An average US manufacturer's price per standard unit across all insulins was $98.70, compared to $6.94 in Australia, $12.00 in Canada, and $7.52 in the UK, according to a study. With such high prices, it was found that one in four people with diabetes are now rationing or altogether skipping lifesaving doses because they can't afford them. Americans with diabetes are facing insurmountable financial crunches due to the high prices of insulin instituted by pharmaceutical, and insurance companies. Prices are so high that Americans are forced to travel to a neighboring country, Canada, to buy the drug. 

Pharmacist Checking Customer's Blood Sugar Levels - stock photo/Getty Images

Dr. Andrew Carroll from Arizona spoke to Bored Panda said pharmaceutical companies cite research and development costs when charging so much for insulin. "Part of the reason is that many drugs are developed in the US and pharmaceutical companies claim that they need to recover the costs of their research and development,” said Dr. Carroll. “Because pricing tends to be controlled in other countries, the only way they can make a large profit is to increase the pricing in the US. The pricing of drugs, over time, tends to go up, not down. If that was the excuse, then the pricing of a drug should go down over time, not up, since ideally, they will have recovered their R&D costs and initial production costs at the beginning,” he said.


The high prices charged by pharmaceutical companies also reflect the huge mismatch in production and revenue. According to Forbes, while the US represents only 15 percent of the global insulin market, it generates an astounding 50 percent of the industry’s insulin revenue.



While the prohibitive costs of insulin are forcing Americans to ration their doses, Dr. Carroll is warning against it. "The costs, including Emergency Room visits as well as health effects, such as renal failure, blindness, heart attacks, and strokes, could cause long-term disability,” said Dr. Carroll. It is even more ironic that one of the inventors of insulin, Frederick Banting, refused to put his name on the patent, in 1923. He said it was unethical for a doctor to profit from a discovery that would save lives. Banting’s co-inventors, James Collip and Charles Best sold the insulin patent to the University of Toronto for just $1. The idea was to make the life-saving drug accessible to everyone.

America's free-market approach to the pharmaceutical industry has cost Americans dearly. In America, drug companies directly negotiate with a host of private insurers in the country while Medicare, the nation's largest buyer of drugs, is barred from negotiating drug prices, reported Vox. It's astonishing that the largest purchaser of drugs cannot negotiate prices which will eventually drive the prices of drugs and make them accessible. In England, the government has an agency that negotiates directly with pharmaceutical companies, before setting a maximum price cap for the drugs, forcing the pharmaceutical companies to agree to it, or risk losing out on the market. In such cases, the government holds sway over drug pricing.




It is estimated that 35 million Americans have diabetes (Types 1 and 2), with a third of them requiring insulin to keep their blood sugar levels in check. Out of pocket insulin charges have been shooting up drastically, with the average price of the drug per month rose to $450 in 2016, doubling from $234 a month in 2012, reported The New York Times. “It’s really scary knowing that just to live day by day I always need insulin and companies are making profit over death. I try to not think about it," said Dan Hart, said a diabetic patient. 




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