The price of insulin has skyrocketed over the past decade. In fact, per-person spending on insulin, for those with employer-paid health insurance, doubled between 2012 and 2016. Today, the average list price for a vial of insulin for people without health insurance is $300 and some people need six per month. For those with insurance, the cost of the copay can vary from $30 to $50 per vial (though that could be much higher for people on a high-deductible health plan).
In Canada, a vial of insulin costs $37.99.
More than 8 million Americans with diabetes depend on insulin to survive. The high cost of the drug has forced one in every four people with diabetes to ration or skip doses.
The factors involved in drug pricing can be complicated but it’s pretty clear that the cost of insulin is on the rise because pharmaceutical companies are able to charge what they like. America has very relaxed policies on drug pricing, compared to the rest of the world, so companies take full advantage. “They are doing it because they can,” Jing Luo, a researcher at Brigham and Women’s Hospital, told Vox, “and it’s scary because it happens in all kinds of different drugs and drug classes.”
The cost of insulin has put such a strain on American families that the Biden administration placed a $35 cap on the drug in its Build Back Better bill. However, that bill is currently on hold in the Senate.
The inventors of insulin sold the patent for just $1 so it would be available to all.\n\n97 years later, Americans are dying because drugmakers like Eli Lilly charge $300 for a vial of insulin. Tomorrow I will be joining diabetics to buy insulin in Canada for one-tenth the price.pic.twitter.com/QbvLnr91Wt— Bernie Sanders (@Bernie Sanders) 1564253700
The good news is that for some Americans with diabetes, relief from high insulin prices may soon be in sight.
Earlier this month, Civica Rx, a nonprofit generic drug maker backed by hospitals, insurers and philanthropies, announced that it plans to manufacture and sell insulin for a maximum of $30 a vial. The company hopes the drug will be available at pharmacies as early as 2024. Before it makes it to market it must be approved by the FDA and Civica Rx has to finish constructing its 140,000-square-foot manufacturing plant in Virginia.
The company predicts its products could make up around 30% of the U.S. insulin market.
"That's actually a fairly fast development time for a product like this,” said Civica’s Allan Coukell. “For Civica as a nonprofit, we're going to manufacture these insulins and sell them for close for what it costs us to make them - without any huge markup.”
The company says there’s also a plan to prevent any retail markups.
“We'll actually have a transparent pricing policy where we say nobody should pay more than—for example, for a vial, $30—at the pharmacy counter. And we're going to say that right on the vial: 'this is the maximum price anybody should pay' so that there's no downstream markups that unfairly target the consumer,” Coukell said.
It’s obscene that in the richest country in the world people are getting gouged for a product they need to stay alive. The price of insulin is a life-or-death issue and Civica Rx should be commended for stepping up and doing the work to help people struggling with diabetes while we wait for the government to act.
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