Utah families with diabetic kids are going to extremes to afford insulin

Jun 25, 2018, 6:24 PM | Updated: Mar 3, 2021, 10:27 pm

SALT LAKE CITY, Utah – More than 30 million Americans have diabetes. Doctors report 7.5 million of them rely on insulin to stay alive, but the price of this life-saving drug has skyrocketed. Some Utah families are going to extremes to afford it.

Kamdin Smith (right), age 11, worries about her parents ability to afford the skyrocketing price of insulin to treat her Type 1 Diabetes.

Though testing her blood to manage Type 1 diabetes doesn’t hurt, what does cause pain, for 11-year-old Kamdin Smith’s parents is the hit to their pocket books.

They’re anywhere from between $300 and $500 just for this one box of insulin,” says Brandie Smith, Kamdin’s mother. “One of these will last us only half a week, maybe.”

“When I hear that it’s so expensive, I kind of feel like I might die,” says Kamdin.

Both of her parents work full-time and have health insurance.”

“He makes good money and we still struggle with it,” Brandie Smith says. “They have to have it to live so they know you’re going to pay the cost.”


Erin Fox, the senior director of drug information at University of Utah Health, blames a broken system.

“It’s horrific, I think. This is a product that really hasn’t changed in more than 20 years. The company hasn’t done anything to innovate or make it better. It’s the same stuff,” she says.

Erin Fox, Senior Director of Drug Information at University of Utah Health, tells News Specialist Heather Simonsen the price of life-saving Insulin is “horrific.”

According to the American Diabetes Association, the average price of insulin nearly tripled between 2002 and 2013, making diabetes the most expensive chronic illness in the U.S.

The same brands are hundreds of dollars cheaper in Canada.

Fox says in 1996, a vial of insulin cost around $25. Now that same amount is $300.

There aren’t good, affordable generic options.

“It’s called ever-greening the patent,” Fox says. “The company will make a tiny change, just enough so that if a generic company is working on a substitute, it won’t be equitable to that same product in the eyes of the FDA.”

There are multiple lawsuits, including a class-action against drug manufacturers Eli Lilly and Novo Nordisk, alleging the companies hiked the prices of insulin simultaneously.

The American Diabetes Associates just launched a #MakeInsulinAffordable campaign.

Lawmakers are calling for congressional hearings, and there’s a grass-roots initiative to provide insulin to the needy.

Parents like Tristeena Williams and her husband do what they have do to get by.

“We both donate plasma twice a week,” she said.

Devon Garrison, age 9, tests his blood to stay on top of his Type 1 Diabetes. His mother, Tristeena Williams, donates plasma twice a week to pay for his insulin.

It’s similar to giving blood, and not easy. They use the money they make to buy 9-year-old Devon’s insulin. “I will pass out after donating, and there have been a few times during. It’s hard on your body,” she said.

Williams pays $300-$500 for insulin a month, even with insurance. She says they are stretched financially.

“Very stretched. Even with donating, that is only covering the insulin and we are not paying our medical bills,” she says.

Going without insulin would put Devon at risk of permanent damage to blood vessels, nerves and organs.

“I usually get shaky and dizzy when I’m low,” he says.

So he and his parents keep playing along, a dangerous game.

As do Kamdin’s parents.

“She’s a growing girl, and it’s hard when she asks, ‘Mom, can I have a snack?’ We have to say, ‘Maybe you should wait so you don’t have to take insulin,’” Brandie Smith says.

A dangerous game.

Two major pharmaceutical companies that make insulin, Eli Lilly, and Novo Nordisk declined our requests for interviews. Eli Lilly sent this statement:

“Our reimbursement system in the U.S. works for many people, but it leaves some – particularly people with high deductible plans or without insurance at all – without good options. We’re committed to continuing to partner with others in the health care industry to find answers.”

KSL 5 TV Live

Top Stories

Local News

(KSL TV)...
Shara Park

Wednesday’s Child: Kenzie, 15, loves reading fiction; hopes to find her forever family

Kenzie has lived in foster care since she was 3 years old. At the age of 10, she was adopted, but that didn’t work out and she returned to state custody. Now at 15, she's hoping to find her family.
14 hours ago
(KSL TV)...
Shelby Lofton

Salt Lake City police using flyers to warn drivers about car thefts

Some car owners are waking up to find flyers on their windshields or car doors, warning them their vehicle could have been stolen.
14 hours ago
(Utah Foster Care)...
Karah Brackin

Study: Utah is best at putting foster kids in safe homes

A study published in March 2023 by the American Enterprise Institute looks nationally at foster care and placing children in safe, stable homes, among other factors. Utah is ranked number one on that list. 
14 hours ago
(Derek Petersen/KSL TV)...
Casey Scott

Casey Scott surprises drivers with free gas cards

Casey Scott was out and about on a beautiful Wednesday morning, asking drivers which holiday has the best candy and surprising a few of them with free gas cards.
14 hours ago
Police respond to Spanish Fork High School after receiving reports of an active shooter, which were...
Josh Ellis

Police: Hoax targets several Utah schools with fake shooting threats

First responders were sent to multiple Utah high schools Wednesday due to calls reporting an active shooter, but police have confirmed none of the threats were credible and no students were in danger.
14 hours ago
(Salt Lake City Police Department)...
Madison Swenson

Gas leak closes roads in Salt Lake City; authorities investigating

A gas leak has some roads closed in Salt Lake City Wednesday morning.
14 hours ago

Sponsored Articles

Stack of old laptops with dark background...
PC Laptops

Old Laptop Upgrades You Need to Try Before Throwing it Away

Get the most out of your investment. Try these old laptop upgrades before throwing it out to keep it running fast and efficient.
Happy diverse college or university students are having fun on their graduation day...
BYU MBA at the Marriott School of Business

How to Choose What MBA Program is Right for You: Take this Quiz Before You Apply!

Wondering what MBA program is right for you? Take this quiz before you apply to see if it will help you meet your goals.
Close up of an offset printing machine during production...
Les Olson IT

Top 7 Reasons to Add a Production Printer to Your Business

Learn about the different digital production printers and how they can help your company save time and money.
vintage photo of lighting showroom featuring chandeliers, lamps, wall lights and mirrors...
Lighting Design

History of Lighting Design | Over 25 Years of Providing Utah With the Latest Trends and Styles

Read about the history of Lighting Design, a family-owned and operated business that paved the way for the lighting industry in Utah.
Fiber Optical cables connected to an optic ports and Network cables connected to ethernet ports...
Brian Huston, CE and Anthony Perkins, BICSI

Why Every Business Needs a Structured Cabling System

A structured cabling system benefits businesses by giving you faster processing speeds and making your network more efficient and reliable.
notebook with password notes highlighted...
PC Laptops

How to Create Strong Passwords You Can Actually Remember

Learn how you can create strong passwords that are actually easy to remember! In a short time you can create new ones in seconds.
Utah families with diabetic kids are going to extremes to afford insulin