Vacations, savings, retirement funds — they all take a back seat for those who have to pay high prices for prescription drugs.
“When I was diagnosed in 1972, insulin cost about a dollar a bottle,” Gail DeVore said. She was diagnosed as a Type 1 diabetic in her childhood and has lived with diabetes for almost 48 years.
The price tag for a bottle of insulin now can reach up to $350 in the United States.
Insulin helps diabetics manage their blood sugar. DeVore’s childhood doctor told her she wouldn’t live past 40. She recently turned 59 years old.
Diabetics often have to buy multiple bottles of insulin at a time. For someone with a high deductible prescription plan, that money comes right out of their pocket.
“To afford that, which happens to be more than my own mortgage, it’s unreachable for some families,” DeVore explained.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates around 30 million people in America have diabetes, which is almost 10 percent of the population. The national price of insulin increased from $344 in 2012 to $666 in 2016, according to the Health Cost Institute.
“It’s the most expensive part of our lives,” Michelle Fenner said. Her 17-year-old son was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes nine years ago.
“It impacts us on vacations we can take, our ability to save for retirement,” she said. “We’ve had to pull from savings.”
Insulin isn’t the only medication with a rising price tag. Fenner was diagnosed with an autoimmune disease just a year ago. Her medication can cost her more than $2,000 a month. Prices can fluctuate based on the insurance’s drug coverage.
“As I’m trying to keep my son alive and pay for all of his costs, am I going to be able to afford my medication?” she said.
“Overall, drug prices have continued to increase,” said Gina Moore, the president of the Colorado Pharmacists Society. “We’re all touched personally by the cost of medications. My husband, as an example, was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease a couple months ago.”
Individual spending on prescription medication increased from $250.7 billion in 2012 to $341 billion in 2016, according to Pew Charitable Trusts.
“It’s not necessarily a new problem but it’s one that’s been magnified over the last decade,” Moore explained.
Income for pharmacies from retail prescription drugs went up from nearly $30.8 billion in 2012 to $76.9 billion in 2016, according to Pew Trusts.
“Don’t hesitate to ask your pharmacist if they know of less expensive alternatives,” Moore said.
But for diabetics, there are no alternative drugs for insulin.
“It’s this simple, tiny little hormone that every body should make,” DeVore said. “And without it, we die.”
“How can you plan your life when you literally have no idea how much something is going to cost?” Fenner said.