Insulin and the Free Market: A Brief Inquiry

The Washington Post tells the story today of Lija Greenseid:

Her daughter, who is 13, has Type 1 diabetes and needs insulin. In the United States, it can cost hundreds of dollars per vial. In Canada, you can buy it without a prescription for a tenth of that price. So, Greenseid led a small caravan last month to the town of Fort Frances, Ontario, where she and five other Americans paid about $1,200 for drugs that would have cost them $12,000 in the United States.

The cost of insulin has been soaring for a long time. It’s doubled just since 2012:

That chart is from 2016, and the price of insulin has kept going up since then:

The pharmaceutical companies will tell you that this is all just list price and doesn’t represent the true price of insulin after discounts and rebates. Pay no attention to this special pleading. Here is the average out-of-pocket cost of insulin for Medicare patients:

And as the price of newer forms of analog insulin rose, guess what happened to old-school products that had been on the market for years?

U500 is a highly concentrated form of insulin for insulin-resistant patients. Between 2010-2014, it suddenly skyrocketed in price from $12 to $59. That’s a 400 percent increase in five years.

There are multiple suppliers of insulin, but as you can see from the top chart, they all increased their prices in lockstep. There appears to be not a single pharmaceutical company with any interest in lowering their price in order to win a bigger market share. It is a mystery to me how these companies continue to avoid an antitrust action from the federal government.

TIME IS RUNNING OUT!

We have an ambitious $350,000 online fundraising goal this month and it's truly crunch time: About 15 percent of our yearly online giving usually comes in during the final week of the year, and in "No Cute Headlines or Manipulative BS," we explain why we simply can't afford to come up short right now.

The bottom line: Corporations and powerful people with deep pockets will never sustain the type of journalism Mother Jones exists to do. And advertising or profit-driven ownership groups will never make time-intensive, in-depth reporting viable.

That's why donations big and small make up 74 percent of our budget this year. There is no backup to keep us going, no alternate revenue source, no secret benefactor. If readers don’t donate, we won’t be here. It's that simple.

And if you can help us out with a donation right now, all online gifts will be matched thanks to an incredibly generous matching gift pledge.

payment methods

TIME IS RUNNING OUT!

We have an ambitious $350,000 online fundraising goal this month and it's truly crunch time: About 15 percent of our yearly online giving usually comes in during the final week of the year, and in "No Cute Headlines or Manipulative BS," we explain why we simply can't afford to come up short right now.

The bottom line: Corporations and powerful people with deep pockets will never sustain the type of journalism Mother Jones exists to do. And advertising or profit-driven ownership groups will never make time-intensive, in-depth reporting viable.

That's why donations big and small make up 74 percent of our budget this year. There is no backup to keep us going, no alternate revenue source, no secret benefactor. If readers don’t donate, we won’t be here. It's that simple.

And if you can help us out with a donation right now, all online gifts will be matched thanks to an incredibly generous matching gift pledge.

payment methods

We Recommend

Latest

Sign up for our free newsletter

Subscribe to the Mother Jones Daily to have our top stories delivered directly to your inbox.

Get our award-winning magazine

Save big on a full year of investigations, ideas, and insights.

Subscribe

Support our journalism

Help Mother Jones' reporters dig deep with a tax-deductible donation.

Donate