Medicare Spending on Insulin Grew 840% within Last Decade

bottles of insulin chart pointing up; medicare spending on insulin

While it’s no secret that skyrocketing insulin prices have put the health of diabetes patients in jeopardy, Medicare Part D is also feeling the hurt. Due to out-of-control insulin prices, Medicare spending on insulin grew 840 percent between 2007 and 2017, the rate of which far outpaces the number of Medicare beneficiaries who rely on this life-sustaining medication.

The statistics

According to recent statistics released from the Kaiser Family Foundation, Medicare is spending exorbitant amounts of money on insulin to keep its diabetic beneficiaries healthy. While Medicare saw an 86 percent jump in the number of beneficiaries who use insulin between 2007 and 2017, the jump in price is still far greater than the increase of people who need the drug.

Amount Medicare Part D spent on insulin:

  • 2007: $1.4 billion
  • 2017: $13.3 billion

Number of Medicare beneficiaries taking insulin:

  • 2007: $1.6 million
  • 2017: $3.1 million

Amount beneficiaries spent on insulin:

  • 2007: $236 million
  • 2017: $968 million

Average monthly cost of insulin per beneficiary:

  • 2007: $862
  • 2017: $3,949

infographic showing what medicare spends on insulin

Soaring insulin prices

The price of this century-old drug has skyrocketed more than 1,000 percent within the last 20 years without changes to the formula, making it cost prohibitive for diabetes patients across the country. These high price tags directly contributed to the high-profile deaths of several people who could not afford this life-sustaining drug.

What politicians are doing about it

Politicians are scrambling to find ways to cut prescription drug costs and save Americans money at the pharmacy counter. Here are five pieces of proposed legislation that could make that happen.

  1. The Trump administration has advocated for doing away with or drastically reducing pharmacy benefit manager (PBM) kickbacks and rerouting savings to patients.
  2. Senators Chuck Grassley (R-IA) and Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) have proposed the Safe and Affordable Drugs from Canada Act of 2019, which would permit Americans to buy prescriptions from Canadian pharmacies and bring them into the U.S. for personal use.
  3. Senators Bernie Sanders (I-VT), Elijah Cummings (D-MD), and Ro Khanna (D-CA) have thrown their support behind the Prescription Drug Price Relief Act, which intends to close the gap between what Americans and people from other countries pay for prescription drugs.  
  4. Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) has proposed the Affordable Drug Manufacturing Act, which would grant the United States government the ability to produce generic versions of expensive medications like insulin.
  5. Senator Bobby Rush (D-IL) proposed to eliminate all out-of-pocket payments for insulin for diabetic patients covered under Medicare and Medicaid with the Insulin Access for All Act of 2019.

Other action to reduce spending on insulin

Until one of these measures passes through the House and Senate and the U.S. government is able to reduce insulin prices in a meaningful and significant way, health insurance companies and pharmacy benefit managers have taken it upon themselves to cut costs. Health insurance provider, Cigna, and its pharmacy benefit manager, Express Scripts, have announced plans to cap out-of-pocket spending on insulin at $25 per month.

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