This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2016, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.
When children are admitted to the hospital with newly diagnosed Type 1 Diabetes, there are two major shocks they must endure. The first is obvious coming to terms with their diagnosis a lifelong, often debilitating disease that affects about in one in every 100 children in our state.
The second shock doesn't come until they get ready to pay for their child's prescriptions at the pharmacy counter. When I discharge a patient from the hospital, they are sent with multiple prescriptions: one for a glucose testing meter, another for glucose testing strips and a glucagon emergency kit and, most costly of all, prescriptions for insulin.
Most newly diagnosed diabetics will be prescribed two different types of insulin, a hormone that is naturally occurring in non-Type 1 diabetics that regulates the blood sugar in a person's body. The shock for these patients and their families comes when they learn just how much they have to pay for their new medications. According to a recent study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, the cost of insulin has risen almost 300 percent between 2002 and 2013. Currently, the sticker price for a vial of rapid-acting insulin is up to $300, and many patients require two to three vials per month just to stay alive. This is in addition to the long-acting insulin that many Type 1 diabetics require, which itself is retailing for as much as $250 per vial. While insurance absorbs some of this cost for a majority of families, many still struggle to make ends meet in the setting of their child's new diagnosis.
While the current formulations of rapid-acting insulin (Novo Nordisk's Novolog® (insulin aspart) and Eli Lilly's Humalog® (insulin lispro) have been around in the U.S. since 2000 and 1996 respectively, there continues to be no generic alternative for these insulins. Both Eli Lilly and Novo Nordisk have mirrored one another's prices for years, allowing for a steady and unrelenting increase in price, regardless of which company patients or insurance companies may choose. As such, the companies that produce them are able to set their own prices and the families whose children depend on these medications to survive must pay the ransom.
If the current trend of skyrocketing costs continues, many Utah families will find it difficult, if not impossible, to afford these life-saving medications. Even for those families with excellent prescription insurance coverage, the cost of these medications is passed on to insurers or the government-funded Medicaid and supplementary insurance programs.
In this way, the cost of insulin is not just a concern for the families of the 1 percent directly affected by the disease. Rather, it should be a very real and immediate concern for every citizen. While solutions to this problem will likely transcend what may be done on the local or state level, meaningful change can only begin when citizens are aware of and ready to address a problem of this magnitude.
For the sake of those affected and for the sake of our health care system as a whole, we must continue to pursue options and policies that support reasonable pricing of medications for those whose lives literally depend upon it.
Tyler N. Brown, M.D., is a resident physician in pediatrics in Salt Lake City.