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An OSF diabetes educator says patients are confronting soaring costs for insulin

Health care costs — including for things such as an insulin kit, for instance — can be catastrophically high for millions of Americans, even those with health insurance, a study finds.
According to the Mayo Clinic, the most commonly used forms of insulin cost 10 times more in the United States than in any other developed country.

The cost of insulin to help people with diabetes has skyrocketed in recent years.

According to the Mayo Clinic, the most commonly used forms of insulin cost 10 times more in the United States than in any other developed country. Even with insurance, people can pay hundreds of dollars out-of-pocket every month.

That kind of financial hurdle can lead to patients rationing insulin, or skipping doses altogether. Particularly for people with type 1 diabetes, those decisions can have deadly consequences.

Insulin is a hormone that aids in critical metabolic processes. Produced by the pancreas, insulin helps cells absorb glucose that is converted into energy to power the body.

“People with type 1 diabetes, their pancreas does not produce insulin,” explained Sherri Schlatter, a certified diabetes educator with OSF Health Systems. “And if they don't get their insulin injections, they will go into what's called diabetic ketoacidosis, or DKA,” she said.

If left untreated, DKA is a medical emergency that can lead to death, Schlatter said.

With the soaring cost of insulin, many patients are struggling to afford their prescriptions. But Schlatter said insurance companies seem willing to cover more of the cost of insulin for people with type 1 diabetes.

Type 2 diabetes also is a serious condition, however, and those are the patients Schlatter sees struggling the most. People with type 2 diabetes are usually able to produce insulin, but aren’t able to process it.

”For people with type 2 diabetes, which is the majority, their insulin is not real effective. We say that they have insulin resistance,” said Schlatter.

Many of those patients rely on injected insulin to regulate glucose levels. While skipping doses may not trigger DKA as it could for a type 1 diabetes patient, it could lead to complications like kidney disease or increased risk of stroke.

Schlatter said part of the problem with insulin is that it’s manufactured by just a few companies. That lack of competition seems to be contributing to soaring costs. “They seem to work together to keep the prices high,” she said.

There have been legislative efforts to cap the monthly out-of-pocket cost of insulin at $35 — most recently in President Biden’s stalled Build Back Better plan. In lieu of policy change, Schlatter recommends patients struggling with costs to explore the following:

— Drug discount programs like GoodRX

— An older version of insulin available through some Walgreens

Insulin biosimilars, a developing category of products that replicate insulin’s effects

— An insulin donation program run by OSF St. James in Pontiac

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