Just like any business, companies that manufacture insulin aren't transparent with three pieces of basic information. No amount of scouring financial data will reveal exactly what it costs them to manufacture a single vial. Since they do not sell directly to consumers, it is equally difficult to figure out what they sell it for. Since we don't know those two numbers, we can't figure out how much profit they receive for each vial of insulin sold. What we do know is that it is expensive, and the cost is only going in one direction: up. One patient's compelling story was featured in a Washington Post article, and a physician with Type 1 Diabetes told his story here. Even worse is that patients can't choose one brand over another to save money. When the cost of one goes up, the price of another moves up - seemingly in lockstep.
Any savvy shopper knows that if you buy in bulk you will generally pay a lower price per unit of whatever you are purchasing. For example, if you buy a case of Charmin at a wholesale club, the cost per roll is much lower than if you bought just a couple of rolls at the grocery store. Assuming that it isn't sold at a loss, that smaller unit price is probably as close as you will get to figuring out what the actual cost is to produce, transport and sell that item.
I applied that same theory to trying to figure out what insulin really costs, but it happened accidentally. While trying to look up some of my medical test results on the Department of Veterans Affairs web site, I accidentally came across a page containing pharmaceutical data. On a hunch, I thought I'd take a stab at seeing their contract purchasing price was for Novolog insulin. I wish I hadn't.
The Department of Veterans Affairs pays $80.29 for one vial of Novolog insulin.
If you are curious about what they pay for any other medication in their formulary, you can find out here.
At Walmart: $270.88 (with a free discount).
No wonder people with diabetes are raising hell.