Pricey prescriptions: Maine families struggle with soaring cost of insulin


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    NATIONWIDE (WGME) - The I-Team continues its year-long investigation into pricey prescriptions.

    A new study reveals the cost of insulin, a life-saving drug for people with diabetes, nearly doubled in just the past few years.

    Some doctors say Maine patients are making dangerous decisions as the price of insulin gets more expensive.

    The surge in insulin prices has sparked outrage across the country from the doctor's office to the oval office.

    In Maine an estimated 142,000 people have diabetes.

    Dr. Irwin Brodsky, a diabetes specialist at Maine Medical Partners in Scarborough, said some of his patients are trying to ration their insulin to make it last longer as the cost of insulin increases.

    "I have patients who are very young and vigorous at the start. After they ration they become very thin and emaciated. Within hours someone can be headed into coma if they're without insulin or have rationed it too severely," Dr. Brodsky said.

    A new analysis from the Health Care Cost Institute found insulin costs per patient nearly doubled from 2012 to 2016.

    The I-Team also looked at federal data to see how insulin prices have changed over time.

    We found a vial of one of the most popular insulin brands, Humalog, was $21 in 1996 when it first came on the market.

    Humalog is now about $260 dollars a vial, according to NADAC, the National Average Drug Acquisition Cost database.

    "The product that came out 20 years ago is the same as the product now," Dr. Brodsky said.

    Eli Lilly, which makes Humalog, didn't respond to a request from the I-Team to talk about the increase.

    Eli Lilly is one of three pharmaceutical companies controlling 99% of the world's insulin.

    The House Oversight Committee is investigating insulin pricing practices as part of a larger probe.

    "I say again we are better than that and need real and immediate reaction to lower drug prices in this country," said committee chair Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-Maryland) last month.

    Congresswoman Chellie Pingree (D-Maine) is part of a group in Washington looking at prescription drug prices and solutions.

    "It is at a crisis point. You are held hostage by the pharmaceutical companies and this drug is increasingly becoming unaffordable for patients and families," Rep. Pingree said.

    Pingree introduced a bill to allow consumers to import medications from Canada where they're less expensive.

    She's also co-sponsoring a bill to allow Medicare to negotiate prices directly with drug companies.

    During his recent State of the Union, President Donald Trump said he, too, will be working on ways to lower drug costs.

    "It is unacceptable that Americans pay vastly more than people in other countries for the exact same drugs, often made in the exact same place. This is wrong, unfair, and together we can stop it. We will stop it fast," President Trump said.

    We also reached out to a group that represents the pharmaceutical industry.

    PhRMA didn't respond to our request to talk about the rising price of insulin.

    While many people with diabetes have insurance to help cover the cost, some still struggle to pay for insulin and supplies, especially at the beginning of the year when insurance deductibles reset.

    Some pharmaceutical companies offer assistance programs for the drugs they make.

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