The high cost of insulin, which has risen by triple-digit percentages in the last five years, is endangering the lives of many diabetics who can’t afford the price tag, say Connecticut physicians who treat diabetics.
Experts and recent studies point to drug companies’ long-standing patents and the lack of generic or “biosimilar” insulin as key reasons why the drug is so expensive.
A study by Philip Clarke, a professor of health economics at the University of Melbourne in Australia, reported that the price of insulin has tripled from 2002-2013. The findings were published in a research letter in the April 5 issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association.
In the United States. Just three pharmaceutical companies hold patents that allow them to manufacture insulin: Eli Lilly, Sanofi and Novo Nordisk. Put together, the three made more than $12 billion in profits in 2014, with insulin accounting for a large portion. All three hiked their prices in the last five years by 168 to 325 percent, says Dr. Kasia Lipska, an endocrinologist at the Yale School of Medicine.
A diabetic needing insulin but unable to buy it “ultimately will hit our emergency room,” said Dr. Cunegundo Vergara, who specializes in internal medicine at Hartford Hospital.
Vergara says “plenty” of low-income diabetics in the Hartford area are living without physician-prescribed insulin.
Similarly, in New Haven, Dr. Anne Camp, an endocrinologist at the Fair Haven Community Health Center, said she has seen “many patients referred to me because their diabetes is out of control, and the major reason is that they can’t afford their insulin. Many other patients are prescribed insulin, and they don’t return for a follow-up, because they are too embarrassed to admit they can’t afford it.”
About 257,000 Connecticut adults (8.9 percent) have been diagnosed with diabetes. Hispanics and African Americans are more than twice as likely to have the disease compared with whites and they are at greater risk of dying from diabetes-related causes, according to the latest data from state Department of Public Health. Diabetes was the seventh leading cause of death in Connecticut in 2013, killing 664 people.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that the number of Americans diagnosed with diabetes increased from 5.5 million in 1980 to 22 million in 2014. Type 2 diabetes is the most common form.
The higher rates of Type 2 diabetes among African Americans and Hispanics “appear to be based on a number of factors, including [differences in] access to healthy foods, physical and……
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