Rationing insulin can be dangerous, SSM Health doctor warns

MADISON, Wis. — More than one million people with diabetes in the United States rationed their insulin in the past year, according to a national study, prompting a warning from SSM Health that doing so could be dangerous.

The study, published last month in the journal Annals of Internal Medicine, found 16.5% of diabetics rationed their insulin, with many doing so because of surging costs or inadequate insurance coverage.

Dr. Kyle Martin, SSM Health’s regional emergency medicine director, said the problem is increasing in prevalence.

“People are looking to save money wherever they can,” he said. “Insulin isn’t like an antibiotic, it’s something that you have to take every day the rest of your life, so it’s just part of what are increasingly stressed budgets.”

Martin warned rationing insulin can have serious effects, and can even be deadly for some with Type 1 diabetes who may need insulin on an hourly or daily basis.

“Your blood becomes really acidic and you can basically die from something like that. It’s life-threatening. It’s something we see pretty regularly in the ER and with increasing frequency,” he said.

Those struggling to pay for insulin, Martin said, should reach out to their doctors for advice.

“They’re all going to be completely understanding and help support you with that,” he said. “They have care management resources, social work resources, other opportunities that they might be able to provide that might be available to a given patient that they may just not be aware of yet.”