November is National Diabetes Awareness Month, a time to bring attention to a disease affecting more than 37 million Americans, as well as the hefty price tag of insulin, the medication to manage the disease.
The cost of insulin is so expensive the American Diabetes Association said one in four Americans with diabetes have resorted to rationing their insulin to pay for other essentials such as food, housing or utilities.
Tami Balavage, president of the group Help A Diabetic Child, started the nonprofit after her 16-year-old was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes, to help others in need manage the costs of the treatment to regulate blood sugar levels.
She pointed out beginning treatment could cost around $1,400 out of pocket, not including luxury items such as insulin pumps and continuous glucose monitors.
“One of the problems we find from the people who apply for assistance through our program is you can’t wait that long,” Balavage observed. “You need insulin right now, right today, or else you will not live because you cannot live without insulin.”
The Rand Corporation examined prices of insulin in other countries in 2018 and found the U.S. was 10 times more, coming in around $98, compared with nearly $9 elsewhere.
Balavage added she hopes to see more resources available to help control costs.
Dr. Nicole Brady, chief medical officer for employer and individual business at UnitedHealthcare, said it is dangerous for people to begin rationing their doses and not take the recommended amount. A person can experience long-term impacts such as damage to their eyes, kidneys, blood vessels and heart. They might need dialysis eventually, lose their vision, or develop heart disease.
“Even if somebody’s blood sugars are running just a little high, and they might not actually even feel it, over time this causes damage to those organs,” Brady emphasized. “It’s really important that people stay on their medications regularly of the doses prescribed.”
President Joe Biden signed legislation capping insulin costs per month at $35 for Medicare Part D recipients. The cap begins in January, and some states, not including Florida, have instituted their own caps to manage costs.
Brady offered tips on improving quality of life for people living with diabetes such as eating well-balanced meals and staying active. People also can visit UnitedHealthcare’s website to learn more about saving money on insulin and managing diabetes.