Roughly six million Americans with diabetes require insulin to survive, and many say the rising cost of the life-sustaining medication is forcing them to make hard choices.
KING 5 examined the National Average Drug Acquisition Cost database and found insulin prices had roughly doubled since 2012.
On Facebook, Christina Hewitt wrote to KING 5, "My son is type 1 diabetic. Each vial of his insulin is 800 dollars. He goes through 3-4 per month. If he doesn't take insulin, he will die in about 48 hours. That's only 1 of his prescriptions, the supplies to administer his insulin can be just as pricey. I remember the uproar of people over the Epipen, but how about the other drugs!"
Amelia Jordan also reached out to KING 5 on Facebook and wrote, "I've had to make that decision between insulin and food, gas, or rent more than once. It's not a good feeling."
"Here we go. Come on blood," said Molly Boll, as she checked her blood glucose. Doctors diagnosed her with diabetes about three decades ago. "This is not going to work on this one because it's used so much."
She pricks her finger at least three times a day to check her sugar, and when the numbers are high, she takes insulin to help her body process sugar.
"I live on a very fixed income with no margin of error for having to spend about $1,400 a month on drugs."
Lately, Boll admits she's been cutting back on her dose hoping to stretch out her insulin.
"When I cut back on the insulin, it made my sugar go up really high," Boll said.
Boll is among the more than 19 million Americans the Centers for Disease Control estimates do not take their medication as prescribed because of the cost.
"There are many examples that we know of patients ending up very sick in the hospital because they couldn't afford their insulin," said Dr. Irl Hirsch, who treats diabetes at University of Washington Medicine.
Insulin has no generic option to keep prices down, and only three companies make it: Novo Nordisk, Eli Lilly, and Sanofi.
KING 5 tracked the insulin price hikes by those three companies over the last five years and found that each time one drug maker increased prices, the others often followed suit leaving consumers no low-cost options.
In statements to KING 5, the drug makers said they work hard to make insulin more affordable.
A representative for Novolog wrote: "We believe that our insulins are priced in line with the clinical value they provide to patients. The net price of NovoLog over time has increased only modestly close to the rate of inflation. We're committed to continuing to find solutions that make medicines more affordable. As the healthcare landscape continues to change, we look forward to working with lawmakers and officials towards a more sustainable system."
Eli Lilly provided a similar statement: "Today's health care system works well for most people, but those enrolled in high-deductible insurance plans and managing chronic conditions face challenges in gaining reasonable access to the treatments they need. Insulin is one example, and we are committed to doing our part. A permanent solution that gives everyone who uses insulin access will require leadership and cooperation across many stakeholders."
Sanofi did not provide a statement.
"The government needs to get more involved, because this hands-off attitude we have had up until now isn't working," Hirsch said.
Two members of Congress did get involved November 3, 2016.
Former Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders and Congressman Elijah Cummings, D-Md., wrote the Department of Justice asking for an investigation into "possible collusion" and "egregious behavior" by the makers of insulin.
"When the demand is there, these drug guys say, 'Oh, wow! We have a great market. So, let's see what we can do about pumping up these prices," Boll said.
There is some hope.
In December 2016, a lower cost option for insulin, Basaglar, will finally be available. It's something the industry calls a biosimilar drug, the first of it's kind for insulin approved by the FDA.
However, unlike generics that offer up to 80 percent savings, analysts predict this drug won't save people with diabetes that much. The predictions are a mere 15 percent.
For now, people like Boll have no relief. Her insurance doesn't cover the cost of the drug, forcing her to pay out of pocket.
Each time her sugar is high, if she wants to live, she'll have to take a shot, and she'll have to pay whatever it costs.
"Do I eat, or do I take insulin, or do I do anything?" Boll asked.
For insulin users looking to save money, patients said the prices for insulin are often less at Walmart and Costco.
Patient advocate Karen Vogel provided this list of resources for lowering the cost of prescription drugs/comparison shopping:
• GoodRx - discount card usually accepted at chain pharmacies.
• OneRx - has an easy-to-use phone app to compare market prices.
• NeedyMeds - assistance for income threshold up to $100,00/year.
• HelpRx - search by drug or condition.
• Partnership for Prescription Assistance – sponsored by drug makers for discounts.
• Health Well Foundation - for select diagnoses and drugs.
• Patient Advocate Foundation – copay relief, can apply online.
• Patient Access Network (PAN) – offers grants to cover costs.
• Pharmaceutical Company "Patient Assistance" Programs – patients sometimes have to be assertive to find.
• Coupons supplied to doctor – doctor may not offer coupons unless you ask.
• Savings cards – Walgreens, Target, AARP.
• Our friends in Canada. The Rx is re-written by a licensed Canadian physician after a questionnaire/ review is completed. There are websites for online ordering; some people travel to Canada and get the prescription written at a clinic in person. There can be significant discounts, especially for 90-day supplies.
Patients can also reach out to these programs to save on drugs to treat diabetes.
Novo Nordisk Patient Assistance Program for Victoza
P.O. Box 370, Somerville, NJ 08876
AZ&Me Prescription Saving Program for Byetta.
P. O. Box 898, Somerville, NJ 08876
Eli Lilly & Co. for Humalog and Humulin.
P.O. Box 13185, LaJolla, CA 92039
1-800-545-6962 or 800-545-5979
Copyright 2016 KING