U.S. insulin costs per patient nearly doubled from 2012 to 2016, study finds

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By Reuters

The cost of insulin for treating Type 1 diabetes in the United States nearly doubled over a recent five-year period, underscoring a national outcry over rising drug prices, according to a new analysis.

A patient with Type 1 diabetes incurred annual insulin costs of $5,705, on average, in 2016. The average cost was roughly half that, at $2,864 per patient, in 2012, according to a report released on Tuesday by the nonprofit Health Care Cost Institute.

The figures represent the combined amount paid by a patient and his health plan for the medicine and do not reflect rebates paid at a later date.

The increasing cost of insulin has led some patients to put their own health at risk.

In recent months, anecdotal stories have cropped up from family members and patients describing the rationing of the lifesaving medication because they could not afford out-of-pocket expenses for insulin. That has also led to some protests outside company headquarters of insulin makers.

The institute said the jump in spending was driven primarily by higher insulin prices overall and, to a lesser extent, a shift toward more expensive insulin products. Average daily insulin use rose only 3 percent over the same five-year period, the report found.

“It’s not that individuals are using more insulin or that new products are particularly innovative or provide immense benefits,” Jeannie Fuglesten Biniek, a senior institute researcher and the report’s co-author, said in a phone interview.

“Use is pretty flat, and the price changes are occurring in both older and newer products. That surprised me. The exact same products are costing double,” she said.

Drugmakers say they periodically need to raise U.S. list prices of their medications to help offset steep rebates they must offer to get them covered by insurance plans. In the last two years, major pharmaceutical makers have limited annual price hikes of prescription medicines under growing pressure from the Trump administration and Congress.

The health care institute, based in Washington, tracks insurance claims data on about 80 million people, drawing on information from the government’s Medicare health plan for Americans aged 65 and older and four of the industry’s largest health insurers: UnitedHealth Group; Aetna, now owned by CVS Health Corp.; Humana Inc.; and Kaiser Permanente.

The insulin report analyzed commercial claims data for about 15,000 patients with Type 1 diabetes annually who had at least one prescription for an insulin product during the year.

From 2012 to 2016, the average price of insulin increased from 13 cents per unit to 25 cents per unit, according to the report. For the average patient using 60 units per day, the daily cost went from $7.80 in 2012 to $15 in 2016.

The findings come amid new outrage over the cost of prescription drugs in the United States, the highest in the world.