The diabetic lament: Why is insulin so expensive?

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HUNTSVILLE, Ala. (WHNT) - Are you rolling pennies to afford your medications? There are generic or low-cost options for many of them, but not for insulin. So why does the drug cost an arm and a leg? The answer may not help, but it's simple: Economics 101.

"There's a monopoly because of supply and demand. You don't have very many options," says Dr. Sally Chu of Crestwood Family Practice in Madison. "There's only one particular company that really makes it, and you need it. So it's not something you can go without, especially the Type 1 diabetics."

I'm a Type 1 diabetic myself, so I get it. My pancreas produces no insulin whatsoever; life for me depends on a vial of insulin. With an average of about 80 units per day through my insulin pump, one vial will only last me about three weeks, tops. Over the years with different insurance companies, I've paid anywhere from $5 to $105 per vial. Now about $75, every three weeks, with insurance: you can see where the struggle lies.

Dr. Chu says her patients raise concerns with her all the time about insulin costs.  She recently even took one woman off one of her diabetes medication, a long-lasting insulin, because she simply couldn't stay on the regimen and make ends meet.

"Insulin works really well, if you can afford it. And so people are having to borrow money and beg, or make arrangements with local pharmacies, which is not easy to do -- and if you can't you wind up in a diabetic coma or in the hospital," Chu says.

Many insulin patents are nearing expiration, which could clear the way for more competition in the market. Until then, the only viable answer is clear: we need more affordable options.