Insulin prices have risen steadily since the 1990s. In fact, between 2012 and 2016, the cost of insulin increased by 20.7 percent every year. Increases have been slower in recent years, but costs are still on the rise.
A 2018 survey on insulin affordability from the American Diabetes Association (ADA) found that 39 percent of respondents had seen their insulin prices go up between 2017 and 2018.
Insulin is a lifesaving medication for people with diabetes. Access to affordable insulin is imperative.
The rise in insulin prices in the United States may be due to a few factors. One major reason for the cost increase is that the insulin available in the United States comes from only three manufacturers:
- Novo Nordisk
- Eli Lilly
This allows those manufacturers to set prices and keep those prices high.
The role of pharmacy benefit managers
Prices are also driven up through the use of pharmacy benefit managers (PBMs). PBMs are companies that create and manage the lists of prescription medications that insurance companies cover. These lists are called formularies.
PBMs give priority to prescription manufacturers that offer large rebates. Manufacturers that offer large rebates are placed on more formularies and are favored by insurance companies.
More expensive prescriptions can offer larger rebates because their starting costs are so high. This has driven the price of insulin up dramatically.
How this affects people with diabetes
The rising cost of insulin makes it difficult for many people to afford it. According to the ADA survey, 27 percent of respondents said the high cost of insulin changed how much insulin they were able to buy or use.
For many respondents, these changes included using less insulin than their doctor prescribed by regularly skipping doses or rationing their supply.
Rationing insulin or skipping doses is very dangerous. It can lead to serious complications such as diabetic ketoacidosis. This complication, which can be fatal, is more common if you have type 1 diabetes and ration your insulin.
However, there are resources available to help you afford the insulin you need. We’ll be discussing several of those resources below.
Insulin manufacturers offer pharmaceutical assistance programs to help people afford their insulin. Each major manufacturer has its own program. You’ll need to meet set income requirements to qualify for these programs.
Lilly Cares Foundation Patient Assistance Program
The Lilly Cares Foundation Patient Assistance Program provides free Eli Lilly insulin products for people with a limited income who have Medicare Part D or no insurance coverage.
The income requirements depend on your state and the specific Eli Lilly insulin your doctor has prescribed. You’ll need to reapply for this program every year.
Novo Nordisk Patient Assistance Program
The Novo Nordisk Patient Assistance Program assists Medicare enrollees and people with no insurance who have an income at or below 400 percent of the federal poverty level.
The program provides up to 90 days of free Novo Nordisk insulin to participants. It also offers discounts on insulin once the 90 days are up. Exact prices depend on the specific Novo Nordisk insulin your doctor has prescribed.
Sanofi Patient Assistance Connection
The Sanofi Patient Assistance Connection provides free Sanofi insulin products to people with an income at or below 400 percent of the federal poverty level.
The program is open to Medicare Part D enrollees and people without insurance. You’ll need to reapply for this program every year.
Manufacturers also offer copay savings cards. These cards can help reduce the amount you pay out of pocket for your insulin. Unlike patient assistance programs, copay savings cards are available regardless of your income.
It’s worth noting that Medicare enrollees can’t use copay coupons or drug cards.
- Novo Nordisk. Novo Nordisk offers a savings card that reduces the copayments for its products. Your exact savings will depend on the insulin your doctor prescribed, but copayments when using the card range between $5 and $25.
- Eli Lilly. Eli Lilly offers the insulin value program. With the program, you can get most Eli Lilly insulin products for $35 per month. You can use the program with or without insurance, and there are no income limits.
- Sanofi. The Sanofi copay savings card is for people with insurance. It reduces copayments for Sanofi insulin to between $0 and $10. Those without insurance can join the Valyou Savings Program, which allows people to purchase Sanofi insulin for $99 per month.
Many programs that provide free or low-cost insulin are only available to people who use specific insulins, fall within income guidelines, or live in certain areas.
You can find the programs that best fit your situation by using one of the matching services below. These services don’t provide direct aid or supply insulin, but they can connect you with resources that will help.
GetInsulin.org is a service that can match you with ways to afford your insulin. You’ll enter your prescription, income, insurance information, and location to get matched with programs that can help you get the insulin you need.
The program can also match you with urgent insulin support to get emergency insulin.
Medicine Assistance Tool
The Medicine Assistance Tool (MAT) is similar to GetInsulin.org. You’ll enter information about your prescription, income, and insurance to get matched with programs that will help you get free or low-cost insulin.
The MAT can also help you find programs to cover any additional prescriptions you take.
NeedyMeds is a database of healthcare information and resources. You can search by your location, condition, and more. Its list of diabetes resources can help you find low-cost or free insulin.
RxAssist can match you with patient assistance programs that can help you get free or low-cost insulin. You can search for your insulin prescription to get started.
RxHope works just like RxAssist. You can enter your insulin prescription and get matched with patient assistance programs. You can apply for any program you find directly from the RxHope website.
Coupon sites, which are free to join, can help make sure you’re always getting the best available price for your insulin. They can reduce your cost significantly.
You can then present a coupon at the pharmacy by using your smartphone or by printing it out. Most coupon sites also offer discount cards that you can present every time you pick up a prescription.
Some popular coupon sites include:
- Blink Health. Blink Health will help you find the lowest prices for your prescription and can arrange for your insulin to be delivered to your home.
- GoodRx. GoodRx offers coupons and discount cards.
- Inside Rx. Inside Rx allows you to search for coupons and sign up for a discount card.
- SingleCare. SingleCare allows you to search for prescription coupons that you can bring to the pharmacy with you.
Some states offer pharmaceutical assistance programs. These programs help people with limited incomes afford any prescriptions they take, including insulin.
Not all states offer these programs, though. In states with programs, the eligibility requirements vary by state. You can check for a program in your state on the Medicare website.
There are a few other options to help you save money on your insulin. These include:
- Walmart’s ReliOn Insulin. Walmart carries over-the-counter insulin for $25 per vial. This insulin is an older form of insulin called synthetic human insulin, and using it requires sticking to a strict eating schedule. Talk with a doctor before making this switch.
- Community health centers. Community health centers often have sliding scale options that allow you to get affordable insulin. You can locate a community health center near you by using this interactive map.
- Pharmacy loyalty programs. Your local pharmacy loyalty program can help provide savings.
- Your insurance company. If you have insurance coverage, you can call your insurance company and ask them what their preferred insulin is. The cost may be lower if you’re able to switch to the preferred insulin.
- A doctor. A doctor might be able to provide you with emergency insulin to tide you over. They might also be able to switch you to lower-cost insulin.
Why buying insulin from online marketplaces is not a good idea
It can be tempting to buy discount insulin from online sellers or marketplaces, but it’s not a safe idea.
- Insulin from online marketplaces could be mislabeled, tampered with, or expired.
- You likely won’t know what you’re getting until it arrives.
- It’s always best to get your insulin from a legitimate source, such as a doctor’s office or pharmacy.
There are multiple efforts underway to reduce the cost of insulin. Lawmakers and advocacy groups alike are working to help people afford insulin.
The ADA has endorsed three possible pieces of legislation that could affect insulin affordability if they were passed. These are:
- The Insulin Price Reduction Act. This act would provide incentives for manufacturers to lower the cost of insulin.
- The Safe Step Act. This act would eliminate insurance company “step therapy” programs that can drive up costs.
- The Chronic Condition Copay Elimination Act. This act would remove copays for medications used to treat conditions such as diabetes.
These acts may not pass and become law. However, they’re among the current suggestions to help bring down the cost of insulin. Broader healthcare laws and acts that aim to bring down the cost of accessing care in the United States could also affect the cost of insulin.
The cost of insulin has risen dramatically over the past few decades. Many people have difficulty affording the insulin they need to manage their diabetes.
However, there are discounts and programs available to help you find free or low-cost insulin. You can also find coupons to help lower your copayments and overall spending.