The Push to Lower Insulin Prices in Michigan

In her State of the State address Wednesday night, Governor Gretchen Whitmer proposed lowering costs on insulin.

“Hundreds of thousands of Michiganders need insulin to survive,” said Governor Whitmer. “The average cost of a single vial is almost 100 bucks. Most people who use it need two or three vials a month, which is up to $3,600 a year. Too many Michiganders are forced to forgo insulin or ration it – putting their lives at risk.”

Aaron Laurie of Reed City has had diagnosed Type 1 diabetes for nearly 30 years. His diabetes “consumes” his life.Aaron Laurie

“It is literally a matter of life and death,” he says. ” If I don’t have insulin I won’t die tonight, but within a week I would be dead.”

There was a time where Laurie relied on free clinics to get his insulin because he was uninsured.

Albert Hong, a pharmacist in Cadillac, says without insurance it could cost patients anywhere between $300 to $600 depending on the volume as each person may require a different amount.

“I see that quite often. Patients who struggle to have insurance coverage and even if they do there are terms like deductibles and copays where usually in the beginning of the year they do pay a high sum for these insulins and they can range from anywhere between fully covered zero copay all the way, I’ve seen, upwards of $100 plus,” says Hong.

In her speech, Gov. Whitmer said the average price of insulin tripled from 2009-2019. Laurie says he noticed the price change in the mid-2000s. He worries about the young people he sees online that need insulin but can’t afford it.

“Young people that can’t afford their insulin I get a lot of, read a lot of comments of people in their early 20s, mid 20s that [say] what do I do, I’m almost out of insulin…What do you tell them at that point? I hate to tell somebody to go beg but what are your other options?” Laurie says. “It’s almost a nightmare scenario and I’ve lived that life and it wasn’t any fun. It was really tough.”

Insulin Vial House Bill 4346 proposes capping the co-pay price for insulin at $50 a month. It’s currently sitting in Health Policy and Human Services Committee as of March of last year.

Senator Curt Vanderwall, 35th District, has spoken about the issue saying he’s for lowering the prices. But how is important.

“How do we do that and hold the manufacturer accountable because right now $50 sounds really, really good,” says Sen. Vanderwall. “The problem is we put the burden right now on the insurance carrier and we need to figure out a way to work with these manufacturers to make sure that we can bring that down and they just don’t jack the price up on our insurance carrier because then in the long run we pay for it again.”

Also Wednesday, Attorney General Dana Nessel launched an investigation into one of the largest drug companies, Eli Lilly and Co., accusing the drug maker of charging excessive prices for insulin.

Laurie says it makes him hopeful that someone is willing to tackle the issue.

“Whoever is running those pharmaceutical companies are criminal,” says Laurie. “It’s insane that you can hold somebody’s life over their head like that.”