In March 2015 I posted The Insulin Racket outlining how venture capitalists financed the development of recombinant DNA “human” insulin and how the drug companies which manufacture insulin drove the old pig and cattle based insulins off of the market.
I am and have been a type I diabetic all of my adult life. My mother also had the disease and died of complications at age 43. I will be 74 in a couple of months and have lived longer than I ever expected.
Back to the insulin racket.
Early on I took an insulin called Protamine Zinc U-40. It was manufactured from the pancreas of pigs and beef cattle. The pancreas were readily available to drug companies since no one I know eats Pancreas fra Diavolo. And there were plenty of pigs and cattle going to slaughter..
So insulin was relatively inexpensive and readily available to everyone who needed it to live, whether they had medical insurance or not.
However, the 1970s brought about a game-changing innovation. Biotechnology investors set their sights on insulin, and the newest incarnation (dubbed “recombinant DNA technology”) involved inserting cloned human insulin genes into bacteria. From there, scientists began improving upon this new genetic code-derived form of the drug.
Although the other versions of the drug were still effective, they fell out of favor and off the market. The new “human” insulins were practically given away when they became available.
I remember distinctly that the insulin I take today, Novolin 70/30, was considerably cheaper than the older pig/beef based insulins. My doctor encouraged me to change – “it’s human!”
Slowly but surely after the older insulins were driven from the market the price of human based insulin began to rise.
Today the cheapest bottle of Novolin 70/30 insulin you can find in America is about $200 for a ten milliliter vial – which lasts me about three weeks. That would be the lower end of the cost for a vial for those without prescription insurance.
Can’t you just picture those little bacteria with cloned human genes pumping out that stuff! They are like little money machines! Indeed they are.
Ah! You say! Lucky old Toritto has that “socialist” coverage Medicare Part D which covers drug costs! Not to worry right? Wrong.
Part D drug coverage under Medicare was instituted by Bush the Lesser and seemed to work really well for awhile. Unfortunately the legislation omitted any effort by the government to negotiate the price of drugs with drug companies; the law was probably written by the drug companies themselves.
Part D drug coverage basically covers the first $3,310 total of annual drug costs paid by the individual and the insurer. After a total of $3,310 the individual enters into the dreaded “donut hole” where coverage by the insurer is severely reduced and the individual is burdened with a larger percentage of the cost. Additionally, during the initial coverage period drugs are priced in tiers – 4 tiers to be exact. Most “human” insulins are considered as Tier III drugs.
So while I am in the initial coverage period I pay out of pocket $140 for a three month supply of insulin which consists of five vials. Insulin is not the only Tier III drug I take daily. The total cost, what I pay and what the insurer pays, is applied toward the $3,310 initial coverage.
Notwithstanding, a couple of years ago I wouldn’t reach the donut hole until say Thanksgiving. In December I would buy a bottle or two of insulin to tide me over until January when my annual coverage would begin anew.
What was effectively hidden from view was the actual cost of the drugs being charged against the initial coverage of $3,310. The price of human insulin which was essentially given away when first introduced to drive the older insulins off of the market now costs $200 a vial – or $1,000 for a three month supply. Added to my other Tier III drug ( a highly effective cholesterol medication which works for me when others didn’t) now put me into the donut hole on July 1st. I still have half a year to go while paying premiums monthly for Part D coverage.
The only reason I am in the donut hole is because of the dramatic increase in the cost charged for these drugs by Big Pharma. How do these folks sleep at night? And how does someone afford a basic life saving drug like insulin without insurance – which is affording less coverage as the drug companies raise prices?
We all know the reason that Novolin 70/30 insulin is $200 a vial in America.
So now my five vial 90 day supply would cost about $1,000 with donut hole coverage of abut half, leaving me to pay about $500 out of pocket. Only in America. If I had no coverage it would be a grand. Disgusting.
So Toritto turned to our northern neighbor – Canada. I was able to order 5 vials of the identical Novolin 70/30 insulin for a prescription and $250. It was easy.
Why does a vial cost $200 here and only $50 in Canada? You know why.
Same manufacturer. I presume the drug company makes a profit selling it in Canada. I am sure the supplier makes a profit selling it to me at the $50 price. There is certainly no subsidy for an American buying his drugs in Canada. The price of $50 a vial is without any insurance coverage and only 25% of the U.S. cost to a diabetic who needs it.
Why are you not surprised? Diabetes will never be cured – not so long as we can be kept alive as cash cows. Take a walk through any mall and see how many over weight teenage porkers you see living on that all-American processed food diet.
Future insulin customers.