Type 1 diabetes (T1D) is fatal without insulin. Nearly 1.6 million Americans have T1D and they must take insulin several times a day, every day, just to survive. Yet the cost of insulin has soared, more than quadrupling since 2010, according to the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services. This is unacceptable.
As the global pandemic causes more Americans to suffer financially, the need to improve insulin affordability is more urgent than ever.
Gambling with lives
People with diabetes who cannot afford insulin too often resort to drastic and life-threatening measures to stay alive. A 2018 study from Yale University found up to 25 percent of people with diabetes are taking less insulin than they need to save on costs. This reality cannot continue.
As we all face COVID-19, people with T1D especially should not be forced to seek emergency care simply because they cannot afford their insulin.
Scientists are working on projects to bring us closer to cures for T1D but until a cure is available to everyone, insulin must be available at a reasonable, predictable, out-of-pocket cost.
We need far-reaching solutions. Companies must lower prices, and provide free or low-cost insulin for those without insurance. Pharmacy benefit managers need to stop demanding rebate payments, which drive up insulin prices, and instead have manufacturers compete on low list prices.
Health plans and employers need to cover insulin as the life-saving drug it is, with low copayments that stay the same year-round. And leaders in government need to encourage competition based on low list prices and help the marketplace work for patients.
This progress can happen even as we continue to invest in new, faster-acting insulins and drugs to better control blood sugar levels, which will lead to better lives for people with T1D.
There is some good news: Several leading health plans agreed to pass rebate savings directly to customers at the pharmacy. Some insulin manufacturers introduced programs to limit monthly out-of-pocket costs of insulin during the pandemic. And resources are available to some people who have trouble affording insulin.
Yet we still need long-term solutions. The rebate system must end, and manufacturers must lower the list price of insulin. We cannot rest until insulin manufacturers, health plans, and government leaders all take action so no one suffers or dies because they cannot afford insulin.