Insulin: Ten times more expensive in U.S.

How a local foundation is fighting rising insulin prices.

Tami Balavage knew the very day her 16-year-old was diagnosed with diabetes that her family’s finances were about to change.

“Our bill was over $500 (for supplies) and that was 12-years-ago,” Balavage said. “It’s so costly.”

That was just for the initial equipment necessary to control the harmful disease that results in too much sugar in the blood. The recurring costs to treat the disease pile up. A recent estimate showed the cost of treating diabetes for one year could be $9,600.

The largest expenditure is insulin, a treatment that can regulate your blood sugar level. Insulin can cost a patient hundreds of dollars a month.

“Cost of care is a large impediment,” said Stephen Habbe, vice president of government affairs at the American Diabetes Association.

Such an impediment that the ADA says one in four Americans with diabetes reported rationing their insulin to pay for other essentials like food, housing or utilities. Yet, not treating diabetes can lead to long- term complications.

“It can lead to heart attacks, strokes, end-stage kidney disease, blindness and lower-limb amputation,” Habbe said. “The consequences of people not being able to afford their insulin could be devastating.”

It’s a problem unique — or at least made more difficult — in the United States. The RAND Corporation studied the average gross manufacturer price of a standard unit of insulin in 2018. The price was ten times as high in the United States compared to a sample of 32 other countries they had pharmaceutical data for ($98.70 in the U.S.; $8.81 in OECD countries).

The consequences of people not being able to afford their insulin could be devastating."

COST OF INSULIN (The RAND Corporation):

  1. United States $98.70
  2. Chile $21.48
  3. Mexico $16.48
  4. Japan $14.40
  5. Switzerland $12.46
  6. Canada $12.00
  7. Germany $11.00
  8. Korea $10.30
  9. Luxembourg $10.15
  10. Italy $10.03

In August, Congress did pass and President Biden signed legislation capping insulin costs per month at $35 for Medicare Part D recipients. That cap begins in January of 2023. But a broader cap for all diabetic patients did not pass.

About two dozens states have passed caps on insulin costs; Florida is not one of them.

After seeing the difficulties a diabetes diagnosis presented to her family, Balavage decided to do something about it. She launched “Help A Diabetic Child,” an organization that raises money to help pay for insulin and supplies for diabetic children in need.

The organization relies on donations and grants, with significant help coming from the United Way, the Schulze Family Foundation, and the Collier Community Foundation.


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