May 8, 2017 Blogs

Guest Blog: Uninsured with Diabetes in the USA

May 5, 2017

Elizabeth Rowley

Three years ago I was visiting my family and friends in the USA for a few weeks and I forgot my insulin at a friend’s house, which was a twelve hour drive away. I was panicked. I decided to look into the cost of a vial of insulin, hoping I could somehow get a prescription for it because I live in the UK and did not have health insurance in the USA any longer.

I called around to a few pharmacies to inquire about the price of short-acting insulin that they had on hand. I would have had to pay full price out-of-pocket for a vial of insulin, and I needed at least two vials to last me for the remainder of my visit.

I was told that the brands that would work in my insulin pump would cost as much as $200 per vial. Even if I could have managed to get a doctor’s appointment, pay for that appointment, and get the prescription, I could not afford the cost of the insulin. I had to make the long journey back to my friend’s house to retrieve my insulin because there was no other option.

Three years later, the cost has risen astronomically for all types of insulin and diabetes treatment supplies. A survey conducted in 2016 by T1International concluded that US respondents spend, on average, $571.69 per month on diabetes costs. Even with insurance, many Americans are spending around half their tax income on insulin and other supplies they need to stay alive. “Insurance helps but it is 9k a year for a 30k year salary,” one respondent said.

“I pay roughly $5000 for three months of diabetes supplies. With deductibles, co-insurances, co-pays, premiums, etc. it is over half of my yearly income,” another noted.

Recent moves to repeal the Affordable Care Act have people with diabetes even more terrified. The fact that survival tips for people with type 1 diabetes in the USA need to be shared is astounding and, frankly, disturbing.

At T1International, we believe that health is a human right, and we are outraged to see more and more people being forced to resort to extreme measures such as rationing insulin or starving themselves. The exorbitant costs of insulin is the cause of death for more and more people with type 1 diabetes because profits are prioritized over people’s lives.

As a patient, I will continue to speak out about these injustices, and as an organization, T1International will support patient advocacy to change this on a global level. It is exciting that Patients for Affordable Drugs now exists and we are thrilled that they, like T1International, take no money from pharmaceutical companies so that they can speak out freely.

Patients truly are leading charge for change, and the more we give them a voice and present a united front, the sooner we can achieve #insulin4all.

Elizabeth Rowley is the Founder and Director of T1International. She was born in the United States and has lived with type 1 diabetes for 25 years. Elizabeth moved to London in 2011 to complete her Master’s degree in International Development at the London School of Economics and Political Science and has worked with non-profits, diabetes and health organisations ever since. Elizabeth believes strongly that where you were born should not determine whether you live or die with diabetes. She is confident that by working together we can find sustainable solutions to the complex problems faced by people with diabetes around the world.


Patients For Affordable Drugs is the only independent national patient organization focused exclusively on achieving policy changes to lower the price of prescription drugs.