A study by the Healthcare Cost Institute found the average price of insulin has nearly doubled since 2012. (Ratmaner/Adobestock)

New rules aim to cut high cost of insulin for diabetics

November is National Diabetes Awareness Month and nearly 1.3 million Illinois have been diagnosed with the disease, according to the American Diabetes Association.

People with diabetes represent 10% of the population and an additional 3.4 million people have prediabetes.

Dr. Nicole Brady, chief medical officer for employers and individual businesses at UnitedHealthcare, said the rising cost of insulin is putting many patients in a bind.

“A lot of them may even have to make decisions like, ‘Am I going to buy food for my family this week or am I going to spend money on my insulin?’ So that puts them in a very precarious position,” Brady observed.

A study published last month in the Annals of Internal Medicine showed that one in five diabetic adults ration insulin to save money, a practice that can damage their eyes, kidneys, blood vessels and heart.

The Biden administration’s Inflation Reduction Act, which passed this summer, caps the cost of insulin for people on Medicare at $35 per month starting in January. It also caps Medicare beneficiaries’ out-of-pocket expenses for prescription drugs at $2,000 per year and allows Medicare to negotiate the cost of certain drugs.

Brady added that starting Jan. 1, UnitedHealthcare will offer zero-dollar cost-sharing to people enrolled in fully-insured standard group plans, which would eliminate out-of-pocket costs for certain prescription drugs, including favorite brands of insulin.

“This should reduce the risk of costly hospitalizations and complications from high blood sugar that can be an effect of diabetes,” Brady pointed out. “And overall people should feel better.”

In the meantime, Brady has some tips for improving your quality of life while on an insulin regimen. She advised cutting back on sugary processed foods, limiting alcohol and avoiding tobacco.

“Tobacco and smoking actually decrease the effectiveness of insulin,” Brady pointed out. “We can manage our stress better because stress can raise our blood sugar levels.”

She added that regular exercise can improve your blood sugar levels because working out forces your muscles to use more glucose for energy.

Disclosure: United Healthcare contributes to our health issue reporting fund. If you would like to help support news in the public interest, click here.

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