When Frederick Banting, Charles Best and J.J.R. Macleod of the University of Toronto invented insulin medications in the early 1920’s, it meant type 1 diabetes would no longer be a terminal illness. The researchers happily sold the patent for their discovery for only $1, with dreams that it would become an accessible medication for anyone who needed it. (1)
Today, the cost of insulin has become so high in the United States that many diabetics are forced to make massive sacrifices in their livelihood… or even their own lives.
An Already Deadly Problem
Type 1 diabetes is not a curable disease. Without access to affordable insulin, someone with type 1 diabetes would die, and in fact, many have already died attempting to ration a limited supply of insulin. 26 year old Alec Raeshawn Smith died three days before payday, when neither he nor his mother, Nicole Smith-Holt of Minnesota could afford to buy his diabetes medications out of pocket.
Alec had aged out of his family’s health insurance, and opted to pay for his insulin without insurance, since the deductible of over $7,000 would delay any real benefit he would receive from the expensive payments, and his salary disqualified him from getting any other financial help for his health needs. (1)
“Your money or your life.”
36-year-old Laura Marston of Richmond Virginia has been managing type 1 diabetes for 22 years. But the cost of insulin has risen so high in recent years that it’s become all but unmanageable for her.
“I was spending $2,880 a month just to keep myself alive – that was more than I was making even working 50 hours a week,” she told Ritu Prasad of BBC News. (2)
Laura has had to make sacrifices simply to stay alive, including moving two hours away to Washington DC and starting over with a higher paying job. “I sold everything, including my car, and had to give up my dog – he was eight and I had to give him away – and move to DC.” She still feels incredibly guilty for not being able to continue to care for her beloved dog. (2)
She’s also given up on the prospect of becoming a mother some day. “It’s led to a situation where I decided I couldn’t have kids because I don’t feel financially stable enough,” she says. (2)
And after all the sacrifices she’s already made, there’s no telling how much more out of hand American insulin prices can be. She’s been watching the price tag increase for years now, with no obvious reason. “Nothing about it has changed, except the price has gone up from $21 a vial to $275 a vial.” She estimates she’ll need to earn about $7,000,000 to simply survive at least until 70 years old. (2)
“It’s really someone having a gun to your head and saying: Your money or your life.”
Finding Band-Aid Solutions
“Outrage” is the word that continues to pop up whenever media outlets shed light on the exorbitant insulin costs in the USA. But outrage alone can’t fix a broken healthcare and pharmaceutical system. Some people with type 1 diabetes have chosen to take matters into their own hands.
30-year-old Lauren Hyre of Arizona found herself without health insurance for a number of years, and ineligible for government assistance. She relied on bargaining for expired insulin supplies from her doctor and costly trips to Canada for extra supplies. (2)
Related: Dad Travels to Canada for Son’s Medicine That Would Cost $53K in U.S.
27-year-old Emily Mackey of California found herself resorting to frequent trips to Mexico to stock up on insulin vials. “I was angry that I had to go to Mexico in the first place to get a drug that keeps me alive. I live right next to a [US pharmacy], yet had to travel 3,000 miles to another country to get affordable insulin,” she told BBC News. When she compared the two prices, she was able to get her life-saving medication at less than a tenth of the cost. (2)
The American Diabetes Association has launched a new campaign in effort to assist people living with diabetes who are struggling to afford the insulin their bodies need to survive. You can access their resources for getting extra assistance, detailed information, and help finding lower cost drugs near you all at InsulinHelp.org. A 20-30 minute phone call with one of their representatives will help get the ball rolling.
To learn more about diabetes, check out these articles:
Disclaimer: This information is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment and is for information only. Always seek the advice of your physician or another qualified health provider with any questions about your medical condition and/or current medication. Do not disregard professional medical advice or delay seeking advice or treatment because of something you have read here.
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