You Thought Gas Prices Were High?

Gas prices vs insulin prices
Prices in central Maryland, mid-March after Gov. Hogan suspended the gas tax.

Whether you’ve failed to avoid a coworker in the breakroom at work or you’re scrolling past Snoop Dogg-themed “how high r u?” memes, or you’ve been misfortunate enough to have a long commute in the morning and need the fuel to make the journey, chances are you’ve made small talk about the ever-increasing price of gas and oil.

Currently, I drive a hybrid sedan with a fairly large, 20-gallon tank. With a very short commute to work, I don’t fill up often, so I hardly notice the gas prices. That changed last week when I had to put in nearly $85 at the pump. Whew.

I had also purchased a few airline tickets for a trip later this year before those prices could inflate. Airlines purchase their oil far enough in advance that a volatile market has a chance to taper off before they have to pass costs through to the customer.

Seeing gas prices in the high $4 to $7 range is tough, but there’s another liquid that has a ridiculous price tag associated with it – insulin.

Let’s take the next two lines to set a little context:

  • In 1923, Drs Frederick Banting, Charles Best, and James Collip sold the patent for insulin to the University of Toronto for $1 each.
  • A 2018 study estimated that one 10mL vial of insulin costs $3.69-$6.16 to produce.

“Insulin does not belong to me. It belongs to the world.”

-Sir Frederick Banting

Today, the global insulin market is dominated by three companies – Eli Lilly, Novo Nordisk, and Sanofi – who produce almost 100% of the supply in the United States.

Due to a lack of competition and the consumers existing in a captive market where they have no choice but to buy the products as they are priced (we cannot live without this liquid), the producers are able to price insulin however they want.

Insulin prices vary depending on which brand you use, but here is a breakdown of some of my costs:

I use a diabetes treatment method called MDI or Multiple Daily Injections where I take a long acting insulin once in the morning and rapid acting insulin to counteract my carb intake throughout the day, usually before/after meals.

For my rapid acting insulin, I purchase prefilled pens. They come in cases of five 3ml pens for $619.99. These pens, once opened and out of the fridge, last 28 days before they expire and start to deteriorate. Let’s do a little math:

  • $619.99 divided by 5 pens = $123.99/pen
  • 1 gallon = 3,786mL.
  • 1 gallon = 1,262 pens (3mL each).
  • 1 gallon = $156,475.

Remember, this is just one of the insulins that people using the MDI treatment need.

While some companies can spew rhetoric about savings lives, take a look at their financial practices to see where loyalties really lie. Eli Lilly has 8 consecutive years of dividend growth including +10.76% in the past 5 years – meaning revenue is going to shareholders before the consumers whose lives depend on their product.

Insulin continues to grow in price year after year, while the cost to produce it remains relatively low.

I’m not using this post to say “gas prices aren’t that bad, deal with it.” I’m just using it to say that being a living human is hellishly expensive these days.

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