A SWEET LIFE: Why is Insulin So Expensive in America?

By Gail DeVore

I was stuck for many years pushing paperwork in a miserable job that I hated. Why did I stay? Because I needed insurance to afford diabetes test strips, a glucose meter, an insulin pump, all the supplies to make it infuse insulin into my body, and insulin. The only insurance option for me with a pre-existing condition was to join a group plan through an employer. So, there I was, somewhat stuck, definitely underpaid, and absolutely miserable. Just to afford to stay alive. That was not all that long ago.

When I was diagnosed with Type1 diabetes in 1972, each bottle of insulin cost $1.49. One dollar and forty-nine cents. I recently found an ad from 1972 with that very price advertised. We didn’t need a prescription. We just needed to show up at the pharmacy and purchase it. By the time I graduated from college a few years later, insulin was still affordable at about $20 a bottle. Over the next few years, the price climbed to $50, then $75, then $80. Insurance wasn’t exactly paying a lot toward covering it, but that didn’t matter – I was able to afford the bill at the pharmacy window. While it was expensive and took a big chunk out of my monthly budget, I was able to afford it… even with a lousy job I hated.

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