Research shows insulin prices skyrocket since 2002

If you think that insulin prices have sharply increased over recent years, it is not your imagination. A recent analysis of U.S. drugs prices shows that the cost of insulin has more than tripled from 2002 to 2013, increasing from $231 per year per patient to $736. These numbers are also reflected in the rise in cost for a milliliter of insulin, which increased by nearly 200 percent, from $4.34 to $12.92 over the same period.

Researchers combed through 28,000 diabetes records in the Medical Expenditure Panel, which is a US Department of Health and Human Services database on healthcare costs. The records show that approximately 25 percent of diabetics used insulin and roughly 66 percent took a pill. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, more than 29 million people in the United States have diabetes, which is 9.3 percent of the population.

The rise in cost is upsetting to many, including patients and doctors alike, because the advancement in diabetes medication and technology has been miniscule in comparison with the sharp rise in cost, and insulin is crucial, life-saving medication. Many people with diabetes, especially those with type 1 diabetes, could not live without insulin injections.

The rise in cost, therefore, poses a serious threat to the lives of diabetes patients who cannot keep up with payments for the medication. Keep in mind, insurance coverage, both private and public like Medicaid and Medicare, has not increased or improved a significant amount since 2002; and income has remained flat in the U.S. for several years, if not decades.

Insulin seems to be the only diabetes medicine that has been experiencing ballooning prices. The analysis showed that cost of many common oral diabetes drugs has actually been going down or, in the case of price increase, the change has not been as dramatic as that of insulin.

For example, the price of Metformin, a generic, decreased from $1.24 per pill in 2002 to 31 cents per pill in 2013. The price of DPP-4 inhibitors, a new class of diabetes drugs, did go up since they hit the market in 2006, but only by 34 percent instead of the 200 to 300 percent increases seen in the cost of insulin.

Although efforts to track insulin prices have been made before, this is the first time researchers examined national drug pricing data over an extended period of time.