As insulin prices skyrocket, diabetics across Alabama and the U.S. struggle for answers

HUNTSVILLE, Ala. -- An estimated 15 percent of Alabama’s population suffers from diabetes, more than 600,000 people.

Along with the disease, which requires daily, active maintenance, diabetes sufferers are also coping with insulin costs that have doubled since 2012, according to a Congressional report issued in November.

Decatur resident Brittany Lutchefield was in college when she was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes. No one in her family had it, she’d always been slim, but now it’s a problem that needs unending vigilance.

And it’s expensive.

“It’s something you’ll never get rid of, so you know that’s an expense you’re going to pay until the day you die,” Lunchefield told WHNT News 19. “And the way it’s going, you’re kind of like, how much is it going to be by that time?”

The American Diabetes Association has reported 25 percent of U.S. diabetes sufferers take less than their prescribed dose of insulin.

A number of diabetics have found it’s cheaper to travel to Mexico or Canada to purchase insulin. Others resort to so-called black markets or gamble with their health.

So exactly how on unaffordable is insulin?

Brittany has good health insurance and her insulin costs have still skyrocketed. For a three-month supply, “now it’s $150, to start with I think I paid $30 for three months,” she said. “So that’s in less than 14 years.”

She says plenty of diabetics face a range of difficult choices.

“It is very expensive there are a lot of people who try to reduce the cost by not taking the amount of insulin their doctor tells them to take, whether they run the risk of going to the hospital, or they eat a lot less than they’re supposed to try to you know, starve that off.

“For people on shots, a lot of them will take half a long-acting dose to try to keep that cost down. Some people can get samples from their doctor – some doctors have more than others.”

Brittany says many diabetics find it’s cheaper to travel to Canada or Mexico and get a legally allowed 3-month supply, than it is to pay for it in the U.S.

“Even with my insurance, I get 8 vials every 3 months now. I could get 9 vials for less than my co-pay in Canada,” she said.

The House Committee on Energy and Commerce held a lengthy hearing last month on the rising costs of insulin.

Members pledged to find a solution, but nothing has been announced.

Diabetics like Brittany are left to wait and worry.

“The thought of somebody having to lose a child or a sibling or anyone in their family or friends, because they couldn’t afford something that would keep them alive -- that was sold to a university for $1 in 1921 --  is very hard to comprehend,” she said.

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