There is no denying that medical costs have been on an aggressive rise over the past several years, and in no sector is this more apparent than pharmaceuticals. But while these changes may only affect small percentages of the population—per prescription—it does bear down quite hard on those who need those medications. Yes, some patients only need these drugs late in life as a result of aging while others might need to make some lifestyle changes, but some patients have chronic diseases they might not otherwise be able to tolerate without these drugs.
In Type-1 diabetes patients, for example, their bodies do not make insulin. That is a malfunction of the endocrine system that impairs the body’s ability to regulate blood sugar. As such, T1 diabetes patients absolutely need synthetic insulin in order to survive.
Unfortunately, the data shows that more and more of these patients are having trouble paying for the insulin they need. A recent study conducted by the nonprofit Health Care Cost Institute (HCCI) demonstrates that the average annual insulin cost was slightly more than $5,700 in 2016. Just four years ago, the average cost of insulin was approximately half of that: $2,864.
It should be noted that these figures actually represent the amount of money paid by a patient in conjunction with their health plan. It does not reflect the rebates paid out for these medication after the fact. At the same time, though, the numbers also reflect the rising cost of healthcare at a time of wage stagnation.
Furthermore, HCCI advises that this jump in spending does not reflect increased need for insulin. Since the average daily insulin use only increased by about 3 percent over that same five-year period, scientists argue that the higher spending is definitely a resort of more expensive products.
Lead researcher Jeannie Fuglesten Biniek comments, “It’s not that individuals are using more insulin or that new products are particularly innovative or provide immense benefits.”
In a phone interview, the HCCI senior researcher goes on to say, “Use is pretty flat, and the price changes are occurring in both older and newer products. That surprised me. The exact same products are costing double.” Of course, drugmakers simply argue they need to periodically raise drug prices in the US as a means to offset those rebates they are required to offer in order to have them covered by insurance plans. Obviously, then, the issue may be more complicated than it might appear; but [Democratic] lawmakers continue to introduce legislation aimed at lowering prescription drug costs, across the board