The price of insulin has skyrocketed over the last 10 years. People living with diabetes who find themselves on a tight budget may try to stretch out their insulin by cutting out doses, or only taking insulin every other day. Some people may not be able to fill their prescriptions at all.
For others, being able to afford insulin means cutting back on other expenses, like groceries. This is far from ideal and can lead to major health consequences in the future.
If you find yourself in this situation, know that there are options. Consider these resources to help minimize your costs.
1. Switch to a shorter-acting product
Your doctor may have prescribed a long-acting insulin instead of an intermediate-acting insulin. They may have also prescribed a long-acting insulin along with rapid-acting insulin.
Long-acting insulins are typically pricier than their shorter-acting counterparts. But that doesn’t necessarily mean they work better.
With insulin, there is often a tradeoff between convenience and cost. The only advantage of a long-acting insulin is that it only has to be injected once a day. On the other hand, intermediate types of insulin have to be given twice per day.
Neither approach is necessarily better than the other, except for the convenience.
In other words, the minor inconvenience of having to give yourself an extra injection each day can save you a nice chunk of change.
Long-acting insulin pens can cost over $400 for a pack of five 3-mL pre-filled pens. The price of a 10-mL vial of an intermediate-acting injection costs roughly $130.
2. Review your insurance plan’s drug formulary
A formulary is a preferred list of drugs from a health insurance carrier. Your insurance company will set a copay amount for different brands on different “tiers” of their formulary. In general, the higher the tier, the higher the copay or coinsurance amount that you pay out of pocket at the pharmacy for your insulin.
To lower your out-of-pocket costs, you’ll want to make sure that your prescribed insulin is considered the “preferred” option by your insurance company.
Your doctor may have already checked to see which insulin is listed as a preferred product on the lowest possible tier, but the preferred brand can sometimes change from year to year. It could be worth it to double-check with your insurance carrier to make sure your prescription matches their preferred brand.
3. Enroll in a manufacturer’s patient assistance program
If you don’t have insurance, find out about patient assistance programs offered by the pharmaceutical company that makes your insulin.
Some programs offer free or low-cost insulin as long as you meet the eligibility requirements. This may include a certain income threshold.
Most discount programs are only available for 12 months, so this is only a short-term solution.
Here are some examples:
Patient assistance programs
- LillyCares: Eli Lilly (Humalog, Basaglar, Humulin)
- NovoCare: Novo Nordisk (Tresiba, Levemir, Fiasp, NovoLog, Novolin)
- Sanofi Patient Connection: Sanofi (Admelog, Lantus, Apidra, Toujeo, Soliqua 100/33)
If you already have insurance, but your copay is too high, many insulin manufacturers also offer financial assistance in the form of copay coupons.
For a period of time — usually 12 months — the insulin manufacturer will cover some or all of your copay when you go to pick up your prescription.
The easiest way to find patient assistance programs is on the website for your brand of insulin. You can also ask your local pharmacist if there are coupons or discount programs available.
Copay savings cards
- Afrezza inhaled insulin (MannKind)
- Apidra (Sanofi)
- Fiasp (Novo Nordisk)
- Humalog (Eli Lilly)
- NovoLog (Novo Nordisk)
4. Get help from nonprofits and community organizations
There are numerous nonprofits dedicated to helping those with chronic diseases with the out-of-pocket costs for their medications.
Here are just a few:
- The Patient Access Network (PAN) Foundation
- Affordable Insulin Project
- Benefits Check Up of the National Council on Aging
- Partnership for Prescription Assistance
- Rx Hope
You can also try your local community clinic to see if they offer low cost options. Visit The National Association of Free & Charitable Clinics website to find a clinic in your area.
Local organizations like the Rotary Club, Lions Club, Elks Club, or the Kiwanis Club may also provide financial assistance for health-related expenses.
5. Shop around at different pharmacies
Like most medications, insulin prices can vary depending on which pharmacy you use to fill your prescription.
Many people living with diabetes note that Walmart supplies an older version of insulin for $25 under its own label called ReliOn. If you choose to go this route, make sure you fully understand how these insulins work to reduce the risk of hypoglycemic episodes. They may have very different action times than newer insulins.
If you’re a member at Costco, it’s worth trying there as well, since they offer discounts on out-of-pocket prescription costs in return for being a member.
Your doctor might not know the cost off-hand at each pharmacy, so you may need to give each pharmacy a call to find the best price. You can also try websites like GoodRx to compare prices.
6. Stay up-to-date on new biosimilars
At the moment, there aren’t any generic versions of newer insulins in the United States. Biosimilars, or “follow-on” insulins, are gaining traction, but they’re still expensive.
Health insurance companies have begun to push back on the unexpectedly high price of biosimilar options. Once more biosimilars enter the market, the price is expected to drop. Keep an eye on research for upcoming insulin biosimilars in the United States so you can be the first to know about them.
7. Improve your diet
Your doctor probably already stressed the importance of eating a balanced diet and exercising. What you may not realize is that eating right can save you money, too.
A healthy diet lowers your need for insulin and other medications at mealtime.
Carbohydrates have the greatest effect on your blood sugar compared to protein and fat. If you eat foods high in carbs, especially refined carbs like chips, muffins, pasta, juice, soda, and cookies, your blood sugar can rise to very high levels. This typically requires higher doses of insulin to control blood sugar.
Reducing your carb intake to any extent can help control how much your blood sugar rises after eating, and in turn, lower your insulin bill.
8. Stay active
Getting regular physical activity can help you control your blood sugar and better manage your diabetes. This doesn’t have to mean expensive gym memberships or personal trainers. Walking, hiking, jogging, and basic body-weight exercises are free and effective.
When you live with diabetes, though, you should consult a doctor before starting any exercise regimen. You’ll need to understand if your insulin dose needs to be adjusted in response to exercise.
The bottom line
As the price of insulin continues to rise, finding low cost options gets more and more difficult. But with a little research and persistence, you can find ways to lower your insulin costs to a level you can manage.
If you don’t know where to start, consider contacting one of the many nonprofits committed to finding ways to lower your medical costs. They can point you in the right direction.
Healthy eating, weight management, and exercise can help cut your medication costs over the long-term.