How insulin prices are leading to dangerous habits for diabetes patients

Doctors say rationing insulin is very dangerous

DETROIT – A life-threatening problem is facing a growing number of patients: rationing insulin because they can't afford to pay for the amount they really need.

A recent study found nearly 18% of working-age adults with diabetes are rationing their medication because of financial concerns. That means they take smaller doses or skip doses altogether.

Doctors said that's a dangerous practice that highlights a very urgent problem.

"If I don't have this insulin, I die," said Jillian Rippolone, of Birmingham. "There are no questions. I will die without my insulin."

Rippolone was just 8 years old when she was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes. This summer, she made a trip to Canada to buy insulin with Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders by her side.

"This is our life support," Rippolone said. "Seven and a half million Americans depend on this every single day to stay alive."

The retail price for a vial of Rippolone's insulin in the United State is about $350.

"When we go to Canada, the same vial made by the same manufacturer is $25," Rippolone said.

She has insurance, but it doesn't cover all of her costs. She said she's fighting for people who can't make ends meet.

"People are dying because they're rationing their insulin because they can't afford it," Rippolone said.

According to the Health Care Cost Institute, prices of insulin doubled between 2012 and 2017.

Why is it often a tenth of the price in Canada? Unlike in the U.S., the Canadian government heavily regulates the cost of medications and negotiates prices with the drug manufacturers.

"We're angry and we want -- we demand -- answers," said Ryan Dinkgrave, of Royal Oak. "We're demanding change. It's a treatment and it's an absolutely necessary one. You cannot just not have it. You will die without insulin if you are a diabetic."

Dinkgrave is a board member for JDRF, the organization that funds critical research into Type 1 diabetes.

"I was diagnosed when I was 10 years old," Dinkgrave said. "I was in the fifth grade."

He testified before a congressional hearing at age 16 about the need for more research funding.

"Living with diabetes is still, at best, very difficult," Dinkgrave said. "Until there is a cure, nothing will satisfy those who struggle to live daily with this disease."

He said he's encouraged by the progress being made 20 years later in research and diabetes technology, but finds it unfathomable that some Americans are unable to afford the insulin they need.

"The fact that somebody would die -- people have died, are dying without it -- is un-American," Dinkgrave said.

He said he encourages everyone to voice their support for research and affordable insulin to their lawmakers.

"It's just something that we have to work on as a nation," Rippolone said. "The only way we're going to get to that point is by using our patient voices."

Anyone having trouble affording insulin should talk to a doctor and ask for help. Rationing insulin is very dangerous and isn't a long-term solution to the problem, experts said.

Metro Detroit residents can support families with Type 1 diabetes at the annual JDRF One Walk coming up Sunday at Milliken State Park in Detroit.

JDRF is hoping to raise more than $1 million to help fund critical research into Type 1 diabetes and help families navigate the many challenges of the disease.

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