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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. People with type 2 diabetes often need it as well. Roughly 7.4 million Americans with diabetes take insulin.
If you need to take insulin for diabetes, it’s essential to learn how to get the cost down to something you can afford, while simultaneously understanding how to manage 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 rapid-acting, short-acting, intermediate-acting, or long-acting. This relates to how long they are effective in the bloodstream.
Costs of vials and syringes
Syringes usually cost between $15 and $20 for a box of 100 depending on where you get them from. Based on where you live, you can purchase them over the counter or online at diabetes supplies stores.
Vial prices vary for each brand and may change with little notice.
For example, a recent internet price search found that Humalog’s list price is roughly $325 per 10 ml vial. Admelog is priced at around $200 per 10 ml vial, while the recently released authorized generic of Humalog is priced at $170 per 10 ml vial. The price varied depending upon pharmacy location.
With insurance, a copay and coinsurance rate can be as low as $5, but it can sometimes rise as high as 50 percent or more of the total cost.
Retail pharmacies like Walmart offer older versions of Regular and NPH human insulin for just $25 per vial.
You and your doctor will work together to determine the best insulin for you.
Pros of vials and syringes
- They’re the least expensive option.
Cons of vials and syringes
- Injections can be painful and difficult for people who are afraid of needles.
- The injection site must be rotated frequently.
- This method comes with a higher risk of hypoglycemic episodes (very low blood sugar).
- You’ll need to carry around the vials and syringes.
- The equipment can be difficult to read and insulin difficult to measure for people with vision or dexterity problems.
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 and 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 $600, and the recently released authorized generic can run over $300. Each pen contains 3 mL of insulin.
The cost for Admelog can vary by pharmacy location but runs about $150 per box of five 3-mL insulin prefilled 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 and vials. But when it comes to total healthcare costs, choosing pens over syringes may save you money in the long run.
Compared to syringes and vials, one
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 may save you money over time.
Pros of insulin pens
- They tend to hurt less than syringes.
- The pen is already prefilled, so there’s no need to draw insulin into a needle.
- They’re ready to use and easy to carry.
- It’s easier 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. You’ll need two injections 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 and sensors. 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.
Advantage of insulin pumps
- They most closely mimic the body’s normal release of insulin.
- They deliver insulin more accurately than multiple injections.
- They result in fewer large swings in blood glucose levels.
- They allow you to be more flexible about when and what you eat.
Cons of insulin pumps
- They’re not always covered by insurance. If an insurance policy does cover a pump, it usually has strict guidelines before the insurance company will pay for it.
- 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 company to figure out the lowest priced method of insulin delivery to achieve your treatment goals.
Insulin syringes and 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 and vials, and may help lower your healthcare costs over the long term. But they 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.