Some of the news about insulin is shocking. In the United States, people have died because they were rationing a life-saving medication discovered in the 1920s. How could this happen? Perhaps a better question is why anyone should be surprised. The insulin story both illustrates and challenges many understandings of the problems with insurance, treatment, payment, and politics in the US health care system. It particularly highlights consequences of structuring price discounts as rebates to health plans or government instead of as lower individual prices to patients. Perversely, this encourages higher list prices, which, for patients without insurance or with high cost sharing, make insulin less affordable than it would be without the rebates.

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