SOUTHFIELD, Mich. (WXYZ) — Last month marked the 100th anniversary of insulin, treating and saving a person’s life.
In 1923, the makers of the miracle drug were so passionate about getting it into as many hands as possible that they sold their patent for just a dollar, hoping no one would ever be denied access.
The irony is that today, diabetes is the most expensive chronic condition in our nation.
We looked at how soaring costs have forced one Michigan family to leave the state and where there may be hope for change.
Insulin prices are through the roof, and there is a laundry list of complicated reasons, a pharmaceutical monopoly, Medicare's inability to negotiate with manufacturers. All of it stems back to very little regulation. Unfortunately, it’s driving a wedge between families who have the means to pay and those who do not.
“Driving by three pharmacies knowing they all have the drug that my kids need, and we just can’t afford it, the stress just became too much,” said Rachel Lockwood, mother of three Type-1 Diabetic children.
Most people in America wake up and go to sleep without thinking about how to afford a lifesaving drug.
But for some, it’s a luxury not entirely known. Rachael and Jim Lockwood are parents to eight kids, three of which are adopted, but perhaps most remarkable is that of their five biological children, three are dependent on insulin to live.
The first two crushing diagnoses came in 2008 and 2014.
“We ended up rationing the insulin that our son had been given between the two of them,” said Lockwood.
Stretching the supply was working for a short time, but when the third child fell ill in 2019, staying afloat became untenable.
“The stress was just too much,” said Lockwood.
In the United States, one in four diabetics- have responded to that stress by rationing their insulin supply- a potentially dangerous and fatal practice that’s becoming more common as costs rise.
“Just how high have insulin prices climbed?” asked WXYZ’s Ameera David.
“Over the last decade, prices on certain insulin have doubled, some have tripled,” said Director of Health Policy JDRF International Aaron Turner-Phifer.
A vial of Humalog, one of the leading insulin brands, you need about two to three of these a month as a diabetic, and just one retail for about $300.
But rewind to 2009, and the same vial retailed for $90.
The soaring costs? Crippling for the Lockwood's, who were on Medicaid, and on the hook for more than $1300 in out-of-pocket expenses a month. But then– came a helpful tip, hop the border to Canada to stock your supply for a fraction of the cost.
“And it was so easy- you can just walk in,” said Lockwood. “And buy it over the counter.”
“I just felt so triumphant,” said Lockwood.
“I didn’t believe it until I made a call myself to a pharmacy in Ontario,” said David.
“How much does that $300 vial cost there? One vial of Humalog is $37.99,” said David.
“What does it say to you that some people feel the need to cross the border into another country to get a lifesaving drug?” David asked.
“That is heartbreaking. It’s an absolute outrage that the cost of insulin can be upwards of $1000 a month,” said Congresswoman Haley Stevens, Michigan's 11th District.
Congresswoman Haley Stevens argues the best hope for change is a $35 monthly cap on insulin costs proposed in Biden's Build Back Better plan. It is the closest diabetics have come to see relief, but the Bill is currently stalled in the senate.
“We call ourselves the greatest country in the world, and yet we are bankrupting families over diseases they did nothing to cause,” said Lockwood.
When the pandemic hit and the border shut down, Canada was no longer an option for the Lockwood's. The family had no choice but to leave Michigan and move to Ohio to take a job with better health coverage.
But for the sake of the thousands of underinsured families they left behind in Michigan, they are hoping 2022 becomes the year of change.
There is hope for the insulin cap proposal. Despite being a part of President Biden’s bill, Republicans have voiced support. Lawmakers remain optimistic that regardless of any future changes to the overall bill, the cap on insulin costs will remain in some form. WXYZ will continue to follow the developments there.