Fighting Type 1 Diabetes and the Rising Cost of Insulin

NBC 7 Responds speaks to a mother and daughter battling the disease and struggling to pay for their medication.

Keary Cheney began feeling sick while she and her husband Justin were in Uganda to adopt their two children Zola and Oliver. A month later she slipped into a coma. Doctors diagnosed her with Type 1 Diabetes, an autoimmune disease that prevents the pancreas from producing insulin.

As she recovered, and as Oliver and Zola settled in, came another diagnosis. Two months later doctors informed the couple that ten-year-old Zola also had Type 1 Diabetes.

Since the diagnosis, the new mother and her adopted daughter have been forced to adopt a new life, managing the autoimmune disease and, simultaneously, Keary and her husband have been forced to face the financial struggles burden of the soaring cost of insulin.

“I never thought that our family would end up with two people with Type 1 Diabetes,” Cheney told NBC 7 Responds. “One person living with Diabetes is a huge cost, so for us, that is double.”

But Cheney and her family are not alone in their struggle to pay for insulin. The cost of a single vial of insulin has increased from $21 in 1996 to $320 last year.

“The insulin has not changed at all, just the price,” said Cheney.

And, with more than 7 million Americans currently in need of insulin to control their blood sugar, the rising price has driven some to forego taking the drug, cut back on doses, or resort to using expired insulin. According to a study by Yale University one out of four diabetics reduced their use of insulin to save money.

In hopes of driving down the cost Cheney has traveled to Mexico to save on the cost. She has also at times shared vials with Zola, and ignored expiration dates. Cheney is well aware of the risks associated with her doing so.

“Unfortunately, people are dying because they can’t afford the cost of this medication,” Cheney told NBC 7 Responds.

She says insurance coverage varies between providers.

“Some insurance will a cover a lot of the cost of insulin and then some won’t,” she adds.

There are some resources, however, for those who are unable to shoulder the cost of insulin. 

JDRF - formerly known as the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation - has a list of resources for patients, including names of several nonprofits and private and public programs that help patients access the insulin they need. You can find those organizations by clicking here.

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