Help! My Insulin Costs Skyrocketed. Health Plan Blames Covid-19!
Q: My prescription for Lantus and blood pressure medicine has skyrocketed recently. When I called Humana, they said they are dealing with Covid-19, and costs have increased. The new price is at a level that makes it impossible for me to afford the medicine I need. I don’t know what to do now. Any help is appreciated. — Robert N. FL
A: The situation that we all are in is precarious, and that includes the worldwide supply chain for prescription drugs. (More on that in a minute.) You need immediate help and here’s a check list of what I suggest you try:
- Contact your doctor’s office and alert them to this dilemma. Ask if they have emergency samples of Lantus and your blood pressure medicine that they can provide, or if they can give you the contact number of programs that can help you.
- Ask your doctor if you have alternate insulin options to control your blood glucose levels. Novolin may be one of them, and it may be less expensive, but it acts differently than Lantus. Ask your doctor if there are any dietitians working with the clinic who can help you reduce your reliance on Lantus and thus the quantity you need to use. Perhaps you can take a combination of Novolin and Lantus.
- Call your local State Health Insurance Assistance Program (SHIP) and ask for free counseling from a Medicare counselor. You can find local contact info here: https://www.shiptacenter.org. Many of these programs operate through local agencies on aging or senior services departments. Counselors can help you over the phone from home.
- Depending on your income, you may qualify for Medicare Extra Help, which can cover most or all of your prescription drug premium and out-of-pocket costs. Your SHIP counselor may also know of special programs in your state.
- Double check the price quote that you received by checking the difference in price between several retail walk-in pharmacies and Humana's mail-in. Sometimes the price can be very different between the two. I learned that my drug plan’s mail-in pharmacy would charge me $243 for three albuterol inhalers. The small local walk-in pharmacy was still charging just $141.99 for three. Often, mail order can be less expensive than walk-in retail. Check for each separate drug. You can use the Medicare drug plan finder to help you look up your plan and learn the cost of your co-pay or co-insurance.
- Send an email to your Members of Congress. This is an election year, and the last thing they want to hear is that health insurers are blaming COVID-19 for the steep price increases. You can get email addresses on TSCL’s website here: http://wfc2.wiredforchange.com/o/8854/p/dia/action4/common/public/?action_KEY=10560. Or, you can look up your Representative and send emails at: www.house.gov and Senators at: www.senate.gov.
Analysts are warning about potential drug shortages, but there is a system for checking whether there really is a shortage, using reported shortage tools on the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) website. You can look up current drug shortages at :https://www.accessdata.fda.gov/scripts/drugshortages/dsp_SearchResults.cfm
Nations all over the world are experiencing unprecedented disruptions to the drug supply chain, and that affects the U.S. drug supply. You may be interested in this article which explains the problem:https://www.cnbc.com/2020/03/24/us-drug-shortage-fears-grow-as-india-locks-down-due-to-the-coronavirus.html.