Diabetics forced to ration insulin as prices skyrocket

GRAND JUNCTION, Colo. (KKCO/KJCT)– More than 30 million Americans have diabetes and 7.4 million of them use insulin. The cost of insulin has skyrocketed over the past few years causing millions to ration the lifesaving drug.

"Unfortunately diabetes is expensive,” said Katherine Stephens-Bogard, program coordinator for outpatient nutrition & diabetes education at the St. Mary’s Life Center.

According to the American Diabetes Association, the average price of insulin has nearly tripled. In 2017 insulin cost Americans 15 billion dollars.

"The American Diabetes Association believes that no individual in need of insulin should ever go without it do to prohibitive cost,” said Dr. William Cefalu, Chief Scientific & Medical Officer, American Diabetes Association

Increased prices have forced thousands to ration the lifesaving drug.

According to the Health Care Cost Institute they found patients spent $5,705 on insulin in 2016 when four years earlier it was $2,864.

"A survey we did last year, about 39% of insulin users experienced an increase in what they paid for insulin and about 27% indicated that insulin has affected their past year purchase or use of insulin so it’s a concern,” said Dr. Cefalu.

The same goes for many on the Western Slope. Rationing is a real issue.

"I know it’s happening, I see patients on the outpatient side and then I’m getting calls that they were actually admitted to the hospital,” said Stephens-Bogard.

It can lead to more serious and more costly issues.

"Their blood becomes very acidic, that can cause cardiac or EKG changes, it can cause dehydration, kidney failure, brain seizures and then they end up coming into the emergency and spending a few days in an ICU unit, that is far more expensive for patients. You have to have insulin to live and without it you can die and pretty quickly,” said Stephens-Bogard.

Doctors say if you can’t afford it, there is help out there.

"Don’t ration have a conversation with your physician, see if we can switch you to one of the lesser expensive insulins,” said Stephens-Bogard.

“Really have an honest heart to heart conversation with your provider that says these insulins are not affordable for me…we in medicine can work with you if you tell us what’s going on, not that we can change the price of the medication but we can maybe suggest one of the much less expensive insulins, tweak your meal plan tweak your exercise program,” said Stephens-Bogard.

The American Diabetes Association started an initiative called stand up for affordable insulin, the goal is pressure drug makers to make it more affordable.

You can find out more information on the ADA’s website, click their link to the right of this article or call them at 1-800-DIABETES.

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