3 Things I Want the World to Know About Insulin

See that tiny glass vial in the below image? Can you believe that the contents of it are extremely precious?

Can you believe that, at approximately $9,400 per gallon, insulin is ranked as the sixth most expensive liquid in the world?

It’s kind of crazy, right? But besides knowing that insulin is priced outrageously, there’s actually a few other things that I think the world should know about insulin.

Ethan Zohn_ A Survivor Contestant Who Inspires-2

  1. Not all insulin is created equal. Just like diabetes, insulin exists in various forms. Besides liquid insulin, there’s also inhaled insulin (Afrezza). And some people with diabetes may even take oral medications that are designed to help increase the effectiveness of insulin that they either receive via injection or produce on their own. There’s brand-name insulin produced by several drug manufacturers (the big three being Eli Lilly, Novo Nordisk, and Sanofi) as well as generic versions of the drug…but that doesn’t mean that generic insulin works just the same as brand-name insulin for all people with diabetes. Insulin is complicated and different types work better for different people.
  2. Insulin is incredibly sensitive. Take one look at the vial in the above photo and tell me that the insulin inside it is safe at all times. Nope, it sure isn’t! Besides the packaging being super fragile, people who rely on insulin must also be careful to keep it at the proper temperature at all times. All it takes is dropping the vial once or leaving it in an unstable environment for the insulin to be rendered useless, potentially wasting a few hundred dollars. It’s as volatile as it sounds.’
  3. Taking too much or too little insulin is dangerous and life-threatening. For some people, there can literally be a life-or-death difference between one unit of insulin. Too much can cause blood sugar to plummet and a person can experience severe hypoglycemia that may result in shock. Too little insulin has the opposite effect: A person will experience hyperglycemia that can have ranging consequences, some that are minimal/temporary, others that are very serious. That’s why precision is so important when dosing for insulin; on top of that, nobody wants to waste a single drop of the stuff because it is so expensive. But this is what many people with diabetes need in order to survive.

So when you see the hashtag #Insulin4All or hear someone talking about how overpriced it is, you’ll know some of the basic characteristics about insulin that make it invaluable to people with diabetes. Perhaps you’ll be inspired to join the fight to make insulin affordable and available to all – as it should’ve been to begin with.

The $2,000 Mistake

Have you ever received an email that made you stop breathing for a moment? Did it feel like time stood still as you blinked rapidly and tried to comprehend the meaning behind it?

It sounds like a dramatic overreaction, but imagine getting a notification from your pharmacy notifying you that your prescription would cost almost $2,000. That’s a big old chunk of change. The mere thought of paying that much for a supply of insulin makes my heart race and my palms sweat.

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I nearly keeled over when I saw this dollar amount.

I’m happy to report that this was a giant mistake; for whatever reason, my doctor’s office sent my prescription for Humalog to my local pharmacy, even though I explicitly told them that I use Express Scripts for my insulin orders. It was a total mix-up, and the approximately $2,000 was an amount that I would pay if I didn’t have any insurance coverage. I do, and though I’m not sure how much I’ll be paying for my insulin yet, I know that it can’t possibly cost this much.

I’m relieved that I was able to call the pharmacy and straighten this out without spending a cent of my money. But it was also a major wake-up call to a reality that many people are forced to face when it comes to refilling insulin prescriptions. It’s not fair. (That last sentence is the understatement of the century.) I can’t make any sense of it and I don’t know how many people have no choice but to fork over such a large sum of money on a monthly basis in order to live. Thoughts of those individuals and their dire situations scare me far more than navigating the world of health insurance ever could.

While I didn’t appreciate the mini heart attack this email triggered, I guess I am glad that it alerted me to the fact that I’m going to have to be aware of things like this going forward. As I figure out my health insurance costs and coverage, I anticipate more confusion, surprises, and expenses…but hopefully I can also expect/experience a pleasant discovery or two along the way.

A Not-So-Sticky Situation

There’s nothing worse than medical adhesive that just won’t stick.

If an infusion site or CGM sensor fails to stick to the body, that almost always means that there’s no choice but to dispose of it prematurely. And that is the definition of a total waste, which is a horrible feeling when it comes to exorbitantly expensive diabetes supplies.

So you can probably imagine my vague sense of panic when less than 12 hours after inserting a recent CGM sensor, it started to peel around the edges. Actually, that’s phrasing it a bit lightly – one half of it was practically flopping off my arm. No matter how much I pressed it back against my skin, it wouldn’t stick. I knew that I needed to save it somehow, and fast.

My first resort was a Patch Peel – it’s cut to accommodate the CGM transmitter; as such, it was the most secure option I had available to me. But seconds after applying the patch, it started peeling all around the edges. WTF?! It was definitely the same strong adhesive that Pump Peelz uses on all of their products, so I didn’t understand why it wasn’t sticking. I cursed under my breath as I racked my brain, thinking of anything else I could use to salvage the sensor. I couldn’t bear the thought of throwing it away after less than a full day’s worth of use.

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Smiling big with my salvaged sensor.

Then I remembered I had SkinTac, which is so strong and glue-like that I normally avoid using it. But desperate times call for desperate measures, right? I lifted up the edges of my patch and wiped the SkinTac all around my skin, patting the patch gingerly back into place as the SkinTac dried. And…it worked! My patch got wrinkly as hell as the adhesives bound together, but I didn’t care because I’d managed to save the sensor. Will it hurt in a few days when I peel off all those layers of adhesive? Oh yes. But I won’t mind at all because I didn’t have to waste a sensor with a retail value of about (cue the gasps) $165.