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Why diabetes patients can’t buy generic insulin

Generic insulin to become available Dec. 15. (MGN)

As the nation’s number of diabetic patients grow, so does the need for insulin. The cost for the life-saving drug has skyrocketed in recent years. In part, because there’s no generic insulin.

Insulin has been around for almost a century. Drugmakers have kept the patent active, denying patients a lower-priced alternative, until now.

Doctors diagnosed 6-year-old Maeve Hollinger with Type 1 diabetes at just 18 months old. She must check her blood sugar, and take insulin daily.

Maeve’s mom says the rising cost of the life-saving drug is forcing their family to make tough financial choices.

“We are in the process of re-mortgaging our home in order to free up more cash each month in order to afford Maeve’s supplies,” Megan Hollinger, Maeve’s mother, said.

They can’t get the drug cheaper by buying a generic form of insulin. Why? Because there isn’t one.

Scientists first discovered insulin in 1921. So, why after almost a century is there still no generic insulin? It’s all because of something called evergreening.

According to a study in the New England Journal of Medicine, drug companies have made incremental tweaks to the drug throughout the years.

Each time there was a change, the patent automatically renewed that kept insulin under its original patent for more than 90 years.

The new versions of insulin are better for patients, but only better for patients who can afford them.

One name brand had a sticker price of $21 a vial in 1996. Today it costs $255, Even after factoring in inflation, that’s a 700 percent increase.

The surge in prices is leading more and more diabetes patients to be reliant on free clinics.

Diane Williams with My Clinic in Jupiter says with the rising costs, patients often ration their insulin when running low.

“They cut in half themselves. Thinking it will last longer, if told to make a medication twice a day, may take it once a day to save money,” Williams said.

Patients who don’t take the right dose can suffer painful, costly implications.

CBS 12 investigates asked drugmakers why there hasn’t been a generic option. Novolog was the only one to respond saying:

"Until recently, the regulatory agencies have not created an approval pathway that ensures a biosimilar insulin would be both safe and effective."

But that’s about to change. In the past two years, the patents on three name brand insulins have expired. The FDA approved the first generic insulin and it will be available starting December 15.

Learn ore about diabetes online through the American Diabetes Association.

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