Skyrocketing diabetes medication costs force life-and-death decisions for patients

The cost of diabetes medications is on the rise. In some cases, prices for insulin and new diabetes drugs can reach thousands of dollars a month. That's forcing patients to make potentially life-threatening choices. 

Insulin can cost hundreds of dollars. GLP-1 drugs like Ozempic and Mounjaro can reach $1,500 without insurance. Even with insurance, some patients complain, those medications are still too expensive. 

"I have to scrape by to actually get the medicine I need," says Stacy Knowles, who lives with Type-2 diabetes. 

Knowles needs to take several different medications each day. "Oral medication, Glipizide, two different types of insulin and Mounjaro as well," she said. This is a life-threatening condition. 

"I probably pay about $400 a month for medicines," Knowles said. The high price tag sometimes forces Knowles to make tough decisions. "I’ve had to either choose to purchase my medicine or purchase food for that week." 

The cost of medications to treat diabetes like conventional insulin and GLP-1 drugs are staggering. 

"Now the costs of these newer drugs are three, four times that of regular insulin, said Dr. Cecil Bennett, Medical Director of Newnan Family Medicine Associates. "Before insurance, we’re looking at a minimum of $800 to $1,500 per month for the newer drugs." 


Wegovy and Ozempic are in a new class of medications known as GLP-1 receptor agonists.

Wegovy and Ozempic are in a new class of medications known as GLP-1 receptor agonists.

The price of insulin is still hundreds of dollars without insurance. "You have to have insulin no matter what the cost. There is no substitute for it," Dr. Bennett said. 

Dr. Bennett says the exorbitant costs force some of his low-income patients to ration. "When they cannot access it, it makes them very ill, in the emergency room. And they risk major complications and even death," Dr. Bennett said. 

Saloni Firasta-Vastani, a marketing professor at Emory’s Goizueta Business School, says numerous hands dip into the money stream of medications. "The pharmacy benefit managers, the wholesalers, the pharmacies themselves, the insurance companies," Firasta-Vastani said. 

All those players plus rapidly increasing demand and short supply jack up costs, which are passed down to the patient, "which results in higher prices," Firasta-Vastani said. 

Dr. Bennett urges patients to shop around at different pharmacies for better prices. He also advises looking for prescription coupons, like Good-RX, to help with costs.