The soaring cost of another injectable drug that millions need to survive

KANSAS CITY, Kan. -- The Epipen is one example of skyrocketing drug prices. So is another injectable medicine that millions of Americans need every day, not just in emergencies. It's insulin.

Oscar Feldman is in the University of Kansas Hospital after collapsing while gardening. Feldman is getting insulin there for his type two diabetes. He admits he didn't take insulin for three weeks before he collapsed. He says he couldn't afford it.

"If I don't get samples, I don't use it," he said.

And then what happens?

"Well, my sugars go up and I don't eat."

Amy Huelle, a diabetes educator at K.U. Hospital, sees others in similar situations.

"They may be starving themselves from carbohydrates so they don't have to take as much insulin....They get sick, they can end up in the hospital with ketoacidosis. They can die," Huelle said.

Feldman says his monthly cost for the two insulins he's supposed to take is more than $2,000.

"It's astronomical," he said.

A report from the Alliance of Community Health Plans found that the average cost of six diabetes drugs, including four insulins, rose by more than 160 percent between 2010 and 2015.

"I think part of it is that there's only a few companies making insulin. It's not like there's a lot of competition," said Huelle.

The hikes have been felt the most by people who are uninsured or under-insured. A growing number of people have high deductibles or annual out-of-pocket costs. Feldman says that's the case with his Medicare plan.

"Sometimes, it's humiliating because you've got to borrow from a friend or ask other people to help you," he said.

The diabetes educator says some patients can switch to less expensive insulins, but it's far from ideal.

"We have great medications that more mimic the action of the pancreas, and now we've having to go back to some of these older insulins because that's all people can afford," said Huelle.

There is good news for Feldman. He just learned that he's qualified for drug company programs that will provide his insulin free for a year.

The first biosimilar insulin is scheduled to go on the market in December. It's expected to cost less, but how much less isn't known yet.