Relief coming for some diabetics in our area who pay high prices for insulin

PITTSBURGH — Relief is coming for some diabetics in the area paying high prices for insulin.

It’s an issue Channel 11 has covered for years. We even followed a group of Western Pennsylvanians to Canada where the drug is hundreds of dollars cheaper.

Insulin is a decades-old drug with no patent. Still, prices have jumped more than 1000% in recent years.

Now, some new programs are starting that caps insulin at $25 or $35 dollars a vial, but only in some circumstances.

Brynlee Robinson, 14, is a type 1 diabetic. She was diagnosed at 4 years old. Brynlee does all the things other teenagers do, like play soccer.

“When I’m on the soccer field, it’s like an escape from school, stress and diabetes,” Brynlee said.

“She’s been my hero since she was 4 years old,” said Brynlee’s dad Jeffrey.

The Robinsons have kept a close eye on insulin prices, knowing that one day, Brynlee will be off their health insurance and carry the cost of her own care.

“There were plenty of people who had to choose between basic life functions, things like eating or their mortgage or affording their insulin. It’s just impossible. It’s a requirement for diabetics to live. It’s a necessity,” Jeff said.

More than seven million Americans need insulin every day to live. The diabetes organization JDRF has fought against high insulin prices for years.

“The insulin market is broken, it’s not working. So for 30-year-old products that are off patent, they are 1000 times more expensive today than they were at launch,” said JDRF Director of Advoacy Aaron Turner-Phifer.

Turner-Phifer added people in the diabetes community are looking for more than reasonable insulin prices.

“It’s the security knowing that if something happens, if you change jobs, if your kid hits a growth spurt and all of a sudden their insulin needs change, they want the security to know that they can go to the pharmacy and be able to afford the insulin they or their child needs to live,” said Turner-Phifer.

Changes in insulin prices started to happen slowly last year. That’s when the Inflation Reduction Act capped insulin at $35 a vial, but only for people on Medicare.

Now, relief is coming for others. Starting in March, all of pharmaceutical company Eli Lily’s insulin products sold at certain pharmacies are $35 a vial for people using commercial insurance, or for people without insurance using a savings card. Starting May 2, Lispro, which is a generic Humalog used in insulin pumps, will cap at $25 a vial.

The two other major insulin drug companies, Sanofi and Novo Nordisk, are capping prices too, but not until January.

“I think all of these steps over the last few years are moving us in the right direction, but the urgency is still there,” said Turner-Phifer. “And all these actions are voluntary.”

That’s why Turner-Phifer stressed JDRF’s advocacy work is far from done.

“We need systemic reform and changes in the insulin market,” Turner-Phifer said. “We shouldn’t have folks going without 30-year-old life-saving medication. It doesn’t need to be this way. And we’re confident we’re making progress to ensure that it’s not that way in the future.”

It’s a future for Brynlee Robinson and so many others, who just want people to know that with insulin, living strong with diabetes is possible.

“People should know that it does affect you and everyone should be understanding like my friends and family to help you through it. But diabetes doesn’t define you, and you can still work through challenges and be whoever you want to be,” Brynlee said.

For more detailed information on which products are available at lower prices, when the price reduction starts and who’s eligible, click here.

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