The price of insulin can be overwhelming, especially if you need it to stay healthy. Even with insurance, you could be paying hundreds of dollars in out-of-pocket costs each month.
Insulin is absolutely necessary for people with type 1 diabetes. It’s often needed for people with type 2 diabetes as well. Roughly 7.4 million Americans with diabetes take insulin.
If your diabetes requires insulin, it’s essential to learn how to get the cost down to something you can manage, while simultaneously learning how to control your condition.
There are several types of devices available to deliver insulin, and each come with their own set of pros and cons. The best insulin device for you depends on many factors, including how much your blood sugar fluctuates each day and your lifestyle.
Nowadays, cost is becoming an increasingly important factor to consider when deciding on a device.
The most common way to inject insulin is with a vial and syringe (needle).
Syringes are considered the cheapest form of insulin delivery, but they’re certainly not cheap — at least not anymore. One study found that the price of insulin tripled in just 10 years.
Vials of insulin can be either rapid-acting, short-acting, intermediate-acting, or long-acting. This relates to how long they are effective in the bloodstream.
Costs of vials/syringes
Syringes usually cost between $15 and $20 for a box of 100 depending on where you get them from. Depending on where you live, you can purchase them over the counter or online at diabetes supplies stores.
With insurance, a copay and coinsurance rate can be as low as $5, but can sometimes be as much as 50 percent of the total cost.
Retail pharmacies like Walmart offer older, generic versions of insulin for just $25 per vial. You and your doctor will work together to determine the best version for you.
Pros of vials/syringes
- They’re the least expensive option.
- Insulins can be mixed if you need to inject more than one type at a time. For example, you can mix mealtime insulin plus long-acting insulin into one syringe.
Cons of vials/syringes
- Injections can be painful and difficult for people who are afraid of needles.
- The injection site should be rotated frequently.
- They have a higher risk of hypoglycemic episodes (very low blood sugar).
- You’ll need to carry around the vials and syringes.
- They can be difficult to read and measure for people with vision or dexterity problems.
- They need to be refrigerated after opening.
An insulin pen is an injection device that delivers insulin into the fatty tissue below the skin with a short, thin needle.
In general, pens are less painful and more convenient than syringes and vials. Most of their disadvantages have to do with their higher costs over syringes/vials and a lack of insurance coverage.
Costs of insulin pens
Pens usually come in packs, so you can’t buy just one at a time. Depending on your insurance and the pharmacy you go to, a box of five Humalog KwikPens can cost over $500. Each pen contains 3 mL of insulin.
The cost for Admelog is around $450 per box of five3-mL insulin pre-filled pens.
Your insurance may cover the cost of a pen, but you’ll likely have to pay a copay out of pocket.
Pens typically cost more up front than syringes/vials. But when it comes to total healthcare costs, choosing pens over syringes may save you money in the long run.
Compared to syringes/vials, found that pens were associated with significantly lower total direct healthcare charges. They were also associated with lower total direct diabetes-related healthcare charges.
In other words, since pens make it easier for you to take your insulin, you can possibly avoid costly hospital trips and other complications. This can save you money over time.
Pros of insulin pens
- They tend to hurt less than syringes.
- The pen is already pre-filled so there’s no need to draw insulin into a needle.
- They’re ready to use and easy to carry around.
- They don’t need to be refrigerated after opening.
- It’s easy to set the right dose.
- Some have a memory feature on the pen to keep track of how much insulin you used and when.
Cons of insulin pens
- They’re usually more expensive than insulin in a vial.
- Some insulin is wasted if the device has to be “primed” before injecting.
- They can’t be used for all insulin types.
- They only contain one type of insulin; two injections must be given if you’re using two types of insulin.
- Pens aren’t always covered by insurance.
- The needles are an additional cost.
Insulin pumps are small computerized devices. They help deliver insulin 24 hours a day through a small tube called a catheter placed under the skin.
Under many insurance companies, you will need to get approval from a doctor showing that the insulin pump is medically necessary before it’ll be covered by your insurance.
Costs of insulin pumps
Without insurance, a new insulin pump costs about $6,000 out of pocket, plus another $3,000 to $6,000 annually for ongoing supplies, like batteries. The cost varies depending on the features, software, brand, and size of the pump.
But you’ll also need to pay separately for the insulin delivered via the device, so the cost for using an insulin pump without good insurance coverage can be tremendous.
Pros of insulin pumps
- They most closely mimic the body’s normal release of insulin.
- They deliver insulin more accurately than injections.
- Pumps eliminate the need for an injection.
- They result in fewer large swings in blood glucose levels.
- Pumps allow you to be flexible about when and what you eat.
- They allow you to exercise without having to eat a lot of carbohydrates.
Cons of insulin pumps
- They’re not always covered by insurance; if insurance does cover a pump, they usually have strict guidelines before they will pay for it.
- They can cause weight gain.
- Pumps may cause diabetic ketoacidosis if your catheter comes out accidentally.
- They’re more expensive than other options.
- There’s a risk of infection at the site where the catheter goes into your skin.
- You may require a hospital stay for training.
If you’re worried about cost, work with your doctor and your insurance to figure out the lowest priced method of insulin to achieve your treatment goals.
Insulin syringes/vials are usually the least expensive option, but you’ll need to find a balance between your insurance coverage, out-of-pocket costs, and your own preferences. Pens and pumps are often more convenient than syringes/vials and may help lower your healthcare costs over the long-term, but can be difficult to afford without good insurance coverage.
The price of insulin continues to rise, but you shouldn’t be forced to choose between your medications and other necessities. It’s important that you take your insulin to avoid future consequences.
Take the time to shop around for insulin prices and look into savings programs offered by pharmaceutical companies. Also, evaluate your insurance options before making a decision about an insulin device with your doctor.