About a year ago, I said to myself, “Gosh, I bet there are people out there who would like to know how much insulin costs in Korea!” And yes, I said that to myself in italics and with great enthusiasm.
And it just so happened that one of my coworkers at the time was a Type 1 diabetic. Hooray, his misery is my gain! I guess? Adam, if you’re reading this, sorry!! Haha. Also, sorry you got canned.
Anyway, during one of our leisurely vape breaks at work, I asked Adam how much he was forking out for the drug that literally keeps him alive.
I jotted down what he told me and then promptly forgot all about writing about the cost of insulin in Korea. As a Type 2 diabetic, insulin isn’t part of my routine, so f**k it, right?!
Well, it turns out there’s at least one person who actually wants to know about the price tag on insulin doses in Korea, and her name is Gabby. She wrote this comment on a recent post I wrote about kimchi jjigae:
I am thoroughly enjoying your blog posts and laughing with my friend, who has been with me throughout my college experience as a diabetic. I have type 1 diabetes and I find your blog SUPER helpful. I’m considering moving to Seoul for a year-long study abroad program and other websites have been vague, at best, but I do know that I would be required to pay for Korean health insurance during my time there. I was wondering if you had any info on a ROUGH estimate on how expensive insulin vials are (or how easy it is to get medical devices for insulin pumps or Continuous Glucose Monitors)? You don’t have to do much digging – it’s fine if you say I have no clue!
Anything you could share, even if it is a joke or a “hell no, I have no idea kid” would be greatly appreciated!!
First of all … thanks, Gabby! I’m really glad you’re getting something out of all the dumb stuff I write on this poor little blog.
And second, I always appreciate it when people take the time to comment. I don’t consider myself a great source of diabetes wisdom, but when questions get asked, I will try to answer them if I can.
So here we are, a year after I pumped poor Adam for info, and thankfully the notes I jotted down are still intact. Here’s exactly what I wrote:
1 pin: $10
1 vial: $4
Doctors will give you insulin
$60-70/mo no insurance
Adam and I used to talk about the insane costs of insulin in the U.S. and how it would be really cool if we could hook up diabetics on “medical tourism” trips with the drugs they need. I believe insulin has to be refrigerated, so Korea’s not really the ideal place for that kind of thing, but you know … we were just shooting the shit.
But that shit-shooting led to the part of our conversation where Adam revealed that doctors in Korea are pretty liberal with their insulin prescriptions.
In other words, you typically don’t need to jump through a lot of hoops (e.g., blood tests and waiting) in order to get an insulin prescription.
You can’t get high on insulin (right?) and there’s not exactly a black market demand for it, so doctors have no need to suspect any foul play when a request is made.
So according to Adam, you can basically walk into almost any doctor’s office, scream I NEED SOME GODDAM INSULIN, and walk out with a prescription.
Unfortunately, I know literally nothing about insulin pumps and Continuous Glucose Monitors. But, assuming insulin costs in Korea haven’t dramatically changed since my talk with Adam, it seems fair to say that insulin in Korea is very, very affordable.
Gabby, I hope you find this information useful! And I don’t know where you’re coming from, but if you’re coming from the U.S., spending a year here while coronavirus (hopefully) goes away is probably a smart idea. Korea is mostly very good at keeping that shit in check. America, not so much. And think of all that deliciously cheap insulin you’ll have access to!
And Adam, I hope you’re doing well and staying totally ripped. If I’m ever in the unfortunate position of having to eat you in order to stay alive, I’m starting with your triceps. They’re so … meaty!
My vial of Lantis is $330 here in the states and they recent lowered me to 15 units 2x a day from 20. If my sugars stay consistent, they are going to try taking me off next month and putting me on a pill like Trulicity or Jardiance, which I’m sure will also be expensive. Hooray for US healthcare.
On a different note, I’m glad I found this site. I’m a recent diabetic and I could really use the humor right now. 🙂
Hi Michelle! Thanks for commenting, and I’m really sorry you had to join this shitty diabetes club. Diabetes is bad, but at least it’s manageable. And yeah the cost of insulin in America is just criminal.
How long does one vial of Lantis last if you’re taking 30 units per day? Sorry for the ignorance of my question, but I know basically nothing about insulin dosing!
The original vial they prescribed me was supposed to last a month (at 20 units 2x a day) but it ended up being about 28 days or so, I’m still on the second one at 15 units 2x a day. They’ve also got me on 1000mg Metformin morning and evening meal as well.
Well, at least you’re “only” paying $330/mo. That’s still too much, but it could be worse. That’s not very comforting, is it? haha
Michael…THANK YOU SO MUCH!! I cannot express my thanks enough!
To give a rough estimate of the sheer difference, I spend about $1,300 per month for my diabetes upkeep with TWO insurances… and that crappy healthcare system is definitely another conversation for another day! This is definitely a VERY tempting possibility, especially as I’m most likely going remote again next semester since the COVID rates are rising again.
Anyway thank you again and I look forward to reading your subsequent posts! Happy Halloween!
$1300/mo. Man I don’t even use insulin and that makes me really angry! What a colossal scam.
I can actually go a step further here … if you tell me specifically what kind of insulin you take (along with any other necessary info, e.g., what size vial) I can walk into the pharmacy around the corner and ask if they have it and what they charge.
This would just be an exercise in (a) checking the validity of what I wrote down a year ago, and (b) satisfying your curiosity, which might guide your decision-making. Just like anywhere else, pharmacies may carry different drugs and may charge different prices, but I imagine the pricing is all in the same general ballpark.
Also, I’m usually not in the habit of dishing out life advice to strangers on the internet, but … aside from the cheap insulin, Korea’s coronavirus numbers are barely a drop in the bucket compared to America’s.
The population of USA is roughly 6.5 times that of Korea, but Worldometers currently has Korea’s corona death count at 468 total. That’s since the pandemic started! And of course USA’s corona deaths are literally 500 times that.
Living in Korea, even if only for one year, would probably be a great life experience for you. There will be challenges and frustrations, but also new culture, new friends, personal growth, etc. And saving upwards of $15,000 on insulin is a pretty good perk, too!
Whatever you decide to do, I hope it all works out. And I’m perfectly happy to give you a hand wherever possible.
I am Type 2 diabetic who lives in Korea. I have national health insurance since I work here full time. I am not on insulin now, but was for a short time when first diagnosed. I can’t remember the exact cost for two full epi-pen dischargers but I am sure it was less than 50 bucks USD total. And I only used it for three weeks before my sugar levels stabilzed, did not even use up all the first pen, and then they put me on pills. And now I take 2 pills once a day and it costs me about 90 bucks for a 3 month supply. Mega cheap. And there are international clinics here that deal with foreign patients. The cost would be a bit higher without national insurance but it is not even double what I pay. The hospitals are super modern, the doctors world class, and its a great system.
Steve, thanks so much for the info! What I “know” about the cost of insulin in Korea is completely secondhand, so I don’t actually know. I think your comment here will be super helpful to Gabby and others who are wondering about this particular Korean healthcare cost.
Also, thanks for the additional insight on the international clinics. I’ve never used one, but it’s good to know they’re out there.
Sorry to be chatty tonight, but just to bump a relevant topic…when I went and saw my Doctor earlier this month, they completely took me off of my insulin and I’m just taking the 1000mg Metformin 2x a day now. Much, much cheaper and even with a cheat here and there, the diet has made me lost about 20lbs since I got out of the hospital in October. I’m even wearing old jeans from the back of the closet. 🙂
I love the chattiness … and congratulations on getting off insulin! The $$$ savings is huge, but I imagine the best part is being able to pop pills instead of sticking yourself with a needle. You must really be doing something right for that to become possible. And the weight loss!! Great job!!
Hi Michael, Do you know how well the vets in Korea can accommodate a diabetic cat? Do you know what types of insulin are available?
Sorry, I know nothing about this! The best I can do is direct you to the Facebook group Animal Rescue Network Korea (https://www.facebook.com/groups/animalrescuenetworkkorea). Someone there probably knows. Or you could also ask Shiloh’s Sanctuary (https://www.facebook.com/shilohssanctuary/). Good luck!