On Dec. 8, a group of West Virginians departed from the city of Morgantown en route to Niagara Falls, Canada, not to see the sights, but in search of affordable insulin, the Charleston (W.Va.) Gazette-Mail reported.
In Canada, no prescription is necessary to purchase the drug at a pharmacy, and insulin prices there are reported to be one-tenth of what they are in United States. Individuals in other states have also organized insulin caravans to Canada to demonstrate the possible savings, as well as the issues apparent with the health care system in the U.S.
According to the Health Care Cost Institute, an individual with Type 1 diabetes paid an average of $5,705 in 2016 for insulin.
“Insulin isn’t something you can go without, or skip when you can’t afford it,” said Tammy Owen, a volunteer with the West Virginia Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation and whose son lives with Type 1 diabetes. “For someone with diabetes, it’s like air. Like water. It’s a basic need, and there are barriers in place that make it inaccessible for many.”
Owen described how her son, who is 26, lives on his own with a full-time job and health insurance in Florida, but he still sometimes struggles to make the payments for his medication.
“Health insurance, it doesn’t matter at a certain point. He’s looking at $1,000 a month at times, just for something to keep him alive. Not many people his age have that disposable income,” Owen said. “We’re lucky that I can help him, but not everyone has that.”
In people with Type 1 diabetes, the pancreas can’t make insulin. Those with the condition require several doses of insulin a day; the price increased $2,841, or 99%, per person since 2012, according to the Health Care Cost Institute.
Costs continue to rise, so much so that almost half of people with diabetes have temporarily skipped taking their insulin, according to a 2018 survey by UpWell Health, a Salt Lake City company that provides home delivery of medications and supplies for chronic conditions.
The escalating cost of insulin has drawn scrutiny from members of both parties in Congress.
All people with Type 1 and some with Type 2, whose body doesn’t use insulin the way it should, need the drug,
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More than 30.3 million people in the U.S. have diabetes, and 90% to 95% of them have Type 2 diabetes, according to the 2017 National Diabetes Statistics Report. Unlike people with Type 1 diabetes, those with Type 2 can often lessen their dependence on insulin through healthier diet and exercise.
“As extreme as it sounds, if I go without insulin I will die,” said Anthony Myer, 29, who has Type 1 diabetes.
He pays $240 for a single vial of insulin after insurance, which lasts him about nine days, the Columbus Dispatch reported.
Myer said he’s forced to carefully budget his money to buy insulin. He lived at home with his dad until a week before he turned 29 because he didn’t have enough money after his monthly insulin costs to live on his own.
Some people with diabetes ration their insulin as a way to prolong their supply. Rationing led to the death of Meaghan Carter, who lost her nursing job in June 2018 and her health insurance along with it. As a result, she was paying $900 a month for three vials of insulin that lasted her about a week each, Patterson said.
On Christmas Eve, Carter started throwing up and showed symptoms of diabetic ketoacidosis. Carter had died on Christmas with her presents still under the tree.
When Carter’s family cleaned out her apartment, they found an empty vial of insulin and another that had barely been used, her sister-in-law Mindi Patterson said.
“She was definitely rationing everything,” Patterson said. “I gotta get this fixed because I can’t lose somebody else.”
Congress need to take action early in the new year to reduce prescription drug prices.
No one should have to drive hundreds of miles to find an affordable price on life-saving medicine.
They also shouldn’t have to disregard their doctor’s advice and ration the medicine because of how expensive it is.