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.

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THE TRUTH...

is the first thing despots go after. An unwavering commitment to it is probably what draws you to Mother Jones' journalism. And as we're seeing in the US and the world around, authoritarians seek to poison the discourse and the way we relate to each other because they can't stand people coming together around a shared sense of the truth—it's a huge threat to them.

Which is also a pretty great way to describe Mother Jones' mission: People coming together around the truth to hold power accountable.

And right now, we need to raise about $400,000 from our online readers over the next two months to hit our annual goal and make good on that mission. Read more about the information war we find ourselves in and how people-powered, independent reporting can and must rise to the challenge—and please support our team's truth-telling journalism with a donation if you can right now.

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