How to Slash the Outrageously High Price of Insulin

I’m shocked and amazed at the price of insulin.  According to the American Diabetes Association, the average price of insulin nearly tripled between 2002 and 2013.  If you have trouble affording your insulin, you’re not alone.  My patients tell me every day that they have to decide between purchasing their insulin and purchasing other basic necessities.

If you use insulin, I want to help you figure out how to get the best blood sugar levels you can while keeping the cost of your insulin as low as possible.  Here are some things to consider:

4 ways to save on the price of insulin

1.  Use human insulin instead of analog insulin

There are two main types of insulin on the market.  One is human, and the other is analog.

Human insulin is available in three basic varieties:

  • Regular

  • NPH (intermediate-acting)

  • A mix of Regular and NPH, such as 70/30

Analog insulin is newer and available in an array of choices, including these:

  • Short-acting (Fiasp, Humalog, Novolog, Apidra, Lispro)

  • Long-acting (Lantus, Levimir, Tresiba, Basaglar, Tujeo)

Human insulin is significantly cheaper than analog insulin.  It’s also less flexible.  Regular insulin requires that you dose yourself 20-30 minutes before you eat a meal, unlike the short-acting analogs that allow you to inject immediately before you eat.

If you are a very organized, regimented person who plans ahead, you may be OK with using Regular and NPH insulin to cut costs.  If you like more freedom and flexibility in your meal schedule, then a combination of short and long-acting insulin is probably the right choice for you.  Think of using Regular and NPH like driving a very basic car — perfectly safe and reliable, but not the Cadillac-level comfort and flexibility you can get with analog insulin.

2.  Use the preferred insulin on your insurance plan’s formulary

formulary is a list of medications that your insurance plan prefers.  You get rewarded for using those medications by paying less for them.  If you have health insurance or a Medicare Advantage plan, you most likely have a formulary.

You can save a great deal of money by using the insulin on the formulary instead of the insulin that’s not.  On rare occasions, I have a patient who is allergic to one brand of insulin or another, but for most people, one short-acting (or long-acting) insulin works just as well as the next.

3.  Consider generic insulin

  • Eli Lilly makes a generic Humalog called Lispro.  Take a look at their Insulin Value Program, where you may be able to fill your insulin prescription for $35 a month.

  • Walmart sells its own ReliOn brand of Regular and NPH (as well as 70/30) insulin for $25 per vial.  You don’t need a prescription, but you do need to ask for it because it’s stored behind the counter.  Keep in mind that this is the “older” type of human insulin, not an insulin analog.  If you’ve been on rapid or short-acting insulin, you’ll need to make some adjustments before making the switch.  Talk to your healthcare provider and Certified Diabetes Care and Education Specialist before you do that.

4.  Cut the price of insulin by taking advantage of manufacturer’s programs

These manufacturers have discount programs available for people without health insurance and at certain income levels:

  • Lilly Diabetes Solution Center  833-808-1234

  • Afrezza Inhaled Insulin Savings Card

  • Afrezza Inhaled Insulin Direct Purchase Program 

  • NovoNordisk NovoCare  1-844-668-6463

  • Sanofi Savings Program  1-855-984-6302

If the price of insulin is breaking your budget, talk to your healthcare team about your options.  No person with diabetes should have to choose between taking care of their blood sugars and taking care of their family.

Action Steps:

  1. If you take insulin, consider its cost.  Is your insulin affordable?

  2. Use the links above to investigate your options.

  3. Call your diabetes educator or pharmacist and schedule a time to talk about the cost of insulin and other diabetes medications.  Take your formulary with you if you have health insurance.  If you want to use a manufacturer’s discount program, take that paperwork with you as well.

Julie Cunningham is a Registered Dietitian and Certified Diabetes Care & Education Specialist. She believes food is the foundation of good health, and that our culture of obsession about body size is damaging to health, happiness, and productivity in far too many people. When not talking or writing about food and health, she can be found in the the mountains of western NC, where she lives with her family and four legged friends.

Julie Cunningham

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