Skyrocketing insulin prices since 2002
Tuesday, April 25, 2017
In yet another case of the U.S. pharmaceutical industry gouging customers who need their medications to live (think… EpiPen), the cost of insulin has skyrocketed since 2002. And those price increases are hurting those who have the most difficulty paying for the increased insulin prices, especially those over 60 who are on fixed incomes.
In an April 2016 story, PBS reports that insulin prices increased more than threefold from 2002 to 2013. It did not mention the steady increase in prices since 2013, because the story was based on the results of a research letter published in the April 4, 2016 edition of the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA). However, analysis performed by investment research firm SSR Health found that insulin prices rose between 99 percent and 120 percent from 2012 to 2016.
Despite this, pharma industry trade group the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America contends that insulin prices had declined from 2015 to 2016, largely due to rebates manufacturers offer to bulk purchasers like the government, unions and companies.
But attention is still being focused on insulin-producing companies. CBS News reports that a federal lawsuit filed this year accuses insulin producers Eli Lilly, Novo Nordisk and Sanofi of colluding to increase the cost of insulin, and Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT) has called for an investigation into potential price fixing between those companies.
And in an environment of patent law manipulation and focus on higher stock prices (the stock prices of the big three rose in lock-step to their price increases), finger-pointing also clouds the issue of insulin price hikes. Three of the major entities ultimately responsible for the market price of insulin blame each other for the increased prices: the pharma industry, benefit managers and the insurance industry.
Meanwhile, facing increased prices with higher deductibles, diabetics who need insulin to live must make personal spending decisions based on how much their insulin will cost. The situation is even more dire for those diabetics who do not have prescription insurance coverage, or for those seniors who run into the “donut hole” of prescription drug coverage that forces them to pay more for insulin and other medications.
For those who chose to pay for food or pay their mortgage instead of staying on their prescribed insulin regimen, the result can mean hospitalization in a diabetic coma (which ultimately costs the healthcare system much more than it would have cost to offer insulin at a fair market price), or death.
Fortunately, Mexican pharmacies can offer price relief for those who feel the pressure of booming insulin prices. In a price survey conducted in April of 2017, we found three types of insulin that are sold across the border at a discount pharmacy in Nogales, Mexico for $50 a vial – read more. Those same medications were offered on the GoodRx website as a “fair price” of between $385 and $538 a vial.
But Mexican pharmacies are not an overall solution to the insulin pricing crisis – it is time for Congress to step up, investigate and resolve the issue. If it fails to do so, it will offer more clear proof that the United States federal government is bought, paid for and owned by the pharma industry and other major corporate interests.