PITTSBURGH — Lauren Granata is planning a trip to Canada, but it's not a vacation. She's going to get the medication she needs to survive.
"When I spoke to a pharmacy right across Niagara Falls in Canada, she quoted me at $36 a vial for the insulin that I use," Granata said. "Right now, in the U.S. ... that insulin vial is about $330."
The cost of a common insulin has risen nearly 600 percent over the last 18 years with no change in manufacturing. In other words, a vial that cost $35 in 2001 now costs around $300.
Granata won't be going to Canada alone. She's taking members of an online support group she started called T-One Yinzers.
"We often see a lot of people reaching out because they are either underinsured or not insured at all," she said. "And, they are rationing their supplies."
At least four people have died in the United States in the last two years from rationing insulin, including Alex Smith, who made too much money for assistance, but not enough to afford a deductible.
"You feel like you're being taken advantage of," a mother of a diabetic who asked not to be identified said, "especially when you hear you can go to other countries and it's $20 a vial."
The three companies that make insulin -- Sanofi-Aventis, Novo Nordisk and Eli Lilly -- blame the U.S. drug pricing system and health insurance for the higher prices.
"I've heard many things," Allegheny Health Network Dr. Patrica Bononi said. "People cut back on the amount of insulin they're taking. Or, they've said to me, 'Sometimes I have a choice between paying a light bill and paying for my medicine.'"
At 16 years old, Kathryn Talarico has become an advocate for type 1 diabetes.
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She said maintaining the disease every day is hard enough. She can't imagine having to worry about the costs.
"Just the thought that something that saves so many lives is so expensive. It's just, it's amazing to me," she said.
Gretchen Dudek's daughter has lived with type 1 diabetes for 16 years. She said she's spent countless hours filing appeals and grievances with insurance companies just to get her daughter the supplies she needs.
"I don’t understand how they can sit behind their desks and live their day to day lives knowing that people are dying because of them," Granata said.
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