How high prices for diabetes care amplify health inequities

At the start of the Covid-19 outbreak, when my insurance wouldn’t allow me to get a backup supply of the insulin I need to live, I received eight vials in the mail from my friend Rena. It’s not the first time I’ve had to rely on my type 1 diabetes family for backup: I’ve traded medications with a cyclist in the middle of Kansas, and been given glucose sensors from people via Instagram direct messages.

These exchanges are built on shared urgency. The 1.25 million Americans with type 1 diabetes, or T1D, must constantly regulate and administer a medication that both keeps them alive—and if over or underdosed, can kill them. But today, far too many diabetics struggle to access insulin and the medical devices necessary for our survival.

Discovered in 1922 by Frederick Banting, Charles Best, and James Collip, insulin is our life support. The trio sold their patent to the University of Toronto for $1 because they thought it would be unethical to profit off of such a discovery. Today, insulin manufacturer Eli Lilly has increased the cost of a one-month supply of insulin by 1200% over the course of 23 years. A vial of insulin can now cost up to $350.

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