Insulin prices: How much does insulin cost?
Diabetes is a chronic condition in which your body cannot adequately regulate blood sugar levels. Managing diabetes requires diligence, mindfulness, and often a significant financial commitment.
If you have diabetes, you may need to take insulin. Insulin is a hormone that helps regulate blood sugar levels in your body.
In the United States, this lifesaving medication can come with a substantial price tag. Yet people with diabetes have options to help lower the cost of insulin.
What is the price of insulin?
Research from 2020 found that the cost of insulin is much higher in the United States than in 32 other countries.
In the study, the average manufacturer price per vial of insulin in the United States was $98.70. This was 6.3 times higher than the price in Canada, 5.9 times higher than the price in Japan, and 27.7 times higher than the price in Chile.
If you live in the United States, the amount you will pay out of pocket varies depending on factors like insulin type, insulin brand, and discounts.
How can you save money on the cost of insulin?
Here are some tips on how to save money on insulin:
- Check for alternative insulin forms: This might include authorized generics, interchangeables, and biosimilar alternatives. Many non-brand-name insulin products on the market are just as effective and come at a lower cost. You can talk with a doctor to learn whether any of these alternatives are suitable for you.
- Shop around for insulin prices: Prices for insulin can vary widely between pharmacies. To save money, you may wish to compare prices before you buy.
- Use Optum Perks discounts: The free Optum Perks Discount Card can help you save money on prescription medications, including insulin.
- Pharmaceutical company savings programs: Some pharmaceutical companies offer savings programs that can help you save money on insulin. For example, Lilly offers a free savings card for eligible individuals, which may lower the cost of insulin products to no more than $35 per month.
- Government and private insurance: Medicare, Medicaid, and private commercial insurance may also offer insulin price caps and discounts that you can take advantage of to save money on insulin.
How much does insulin cost per month?
The cost of insulin per month can vary significantly, depending on factors like the type, amount, and brand of insulin, as well as insurance contributions or other discounts.
A 2021 cross-sectional study investigated the average out-of-pocket costs for diabetes management around the world. The study’s 2020 data noted the following expenses for individuals with diabetes in the United States:
- $490 per month for all diabetes expenses
- $144 per month for rapid-acting insulin
- $95 per month for long-acting insulin
Yet an increasing number of discounts, rebates, and price caps may be available to help bring this cost down.
If you need help covering the cost of medications, the free Optum Perks Discount Card could help you save up to 80% on prescription drugs. Follow the links on drug names for savings on that medication, or search for a specific drug here.
What factors affect the price of insulin?
Several factors contribute to the high cost of insulin. According to a 2022 scientific article, these include:
- Prescription of mostly brand-name products: Many prescribing doctors may not know when a cheaper alternative is suitable to manage an individual’s diabetes. As a result, they may keep prescribing the more expensive brand-name versions.
- Patent protection: Pharmaceutical companies have patent protection on their insulin products. This means that other companies cannot make, sell, or distribute the products without the companies’ consent. This allows them to charge high prices.
- Limited manufacturers: Only a few manufacturers produce insulin. The lack of competition drives up the costs for buyers.
- Lack of transparency: Pharmacy benefit managers negotiate drug prices and distribution on behalf of insurance companies and employers, but there is a lack of transparency in these negotiations.
- Research and development costs: Developing new insulin products is expensive, and these costs are passed on to consumers.
- Limited flexibility for negotiations: Only a few buyers, such as Medicaid, are allowed to negotiate drug prices. Many federal drug benefit programs are not allowed to do this, which limits how much they can work with manufacturers to bring down costs.
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Is the price of insulin going down?
Recent developments could help lower the cost of insulin.
For example, in March 2023, insulin manufacturer Eli Lilly announced a series of price reductions.
Among other initiatives, it cut the list price of non-branded insulin, Insulin Lispro Injection, to $25 per vial. The company also capped out-of-pocket costs at $35 per month for people with commercial insurance using Lilly insulin and for people using its free Insulin Value Program.
Plus, the Office of the Assistant Secretary for Planning and Evaluation recently reported that out-of-pocket insulin costs are capped at $35 per month for people enrolled in Medicare Part B and Part D. This is part of the 2022 Inflation Reduction Act.
More states are also implementing copay caps on the cost of insulin for residents with state-regulated commercial health insurance plans or state employee health plans.
Last but not least, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is continuing to review and approve non-brand-name insulin alternatives, which are generally more affordable than brand-name options.
Does insurance cover insulin?
Many private insurance plans cover insulin, but the amount you pay out of pocket can vary. Reach out to your insurer to learn how they can support your insulin needs.
State-regulated health insurance plans may also offer copayment caps on insulin costs.
Do Medicare and Medicaid cover insulin?
Medicare Part B and Part D cap the cost of a 1-month supply of insulin at $35.
In most states, Medicaid also covers insulin, though the specific medications and costs can differ. You can contact your state Medicaid agency to learn more.
Insulin is an essential medication for many people with diabetes, but it can be expensive.
Factors that contribute to the high cost of insulin include research and development costs, patent protection, and a lack of transparency and flexibility in price negotiations.
You can save money on insulin by using Optum Perks discounts, checking for non-brand-name alternatives, shopping around for the best prices, and looking into savings programs and insurance discounts.
Download the free Optum Perks Discount Card to save up to 80% on prescription medications.
- 2020 T1International out-of-pocket cost survey. (2020). https://www.t1international.com/access-survey/
- By the numbers: The Inflation Reduction Act. (2022). https://www.whitehouse.gov/briefing-room/statements-releases/2022/08/15/by-the-numbers-the-inflation-reduction-act/
- FDA approves first interchangeable biosimilar insulin product for treatment of diabetes. (2021). https://www.fda.gov/news-events/press-announcements/fda-approves-first-interchangeable-biosimilar-insulin-product-treatment-diabetes
- FDA list of authorized generic drugs. (2023). https://www.fda.gov/drugs/abbreviated-new-drug-application-anda/fda-list-authorized-generic-drugs
- Herman WH, et al. (2021). 100 years of insulin: Why is insulin so expensive and what can be done to control its cost? https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC8597930/
- Insulin. (n.d.). https://www.medicare.gov/coverage/insulin
- Lilly cuts insulin prices by 70% and caps patient insulin out-of-pocket costs at $35 per month. (2023). https://investor.lilly.com/news-releases/news-release-details/lilly-cuts-insulin-prices-70-and-caps-patient-insulin-out-pocket
- Mulcahy AW, et al. (2020). Comparing insulin prices in the United States to other countries: Results from a price index analysis. https://www.rand.org/pubs/research_reports/RRA788-1.html
- Pfiester E, et al. (2021). Costs and underuse of insulin and diabetes supplies: Findings from the 2020 T1International cross-sectional web-based survey. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0168822721003557
- Sayed BA, et al. (2023). Insulin affordability and the Inflation Reduction Act: Medicare beneficiary savings by state and demographics. https://aspe.hhs.gov/reports/insulin-affordability-ira-data-point
- State insulin copay caps. (n.d.). https://diabetes.org/tools-resources/affordable-insulin/state-insulin-copay-caps