Eli Lilly cuts insulin prices after years of outrage

Zoom in / Advocates of T1Internationals New York, New Jersey and Connecticut Chapters held a vigil on September 5, 2019, outside the offices of Eli Lilly honoring those who have lost their lives due to the high cost of insulin and demanding lower insulin prices.

Pharmaceutical giant Eli Lilly, one of the nation’s top insulin makers, announced Wednesday that it will drop high list prices for some of its insulins and immediately offer plans to limit out-of-pocket costs to $35 a month for people with commercial insurance as well as those who are uninsured.

The price cap matches what the federal government has set for Medicare, which went into effect this year through the Inflation Reduction Act.

While Lilly’s announcement comes just two months after the government introduced the $35 cap, it follows years of intense outrage over what are widely seen as skyrocketing US insulin prices.

A study of insulin list prices from 2018 found that prices in the US were often five to 10 times higher than prices in other high-income countries. In 2018, the average price of a standard unit of insulin in the US was $98.70, while the average price was just $8.81 in other high-income countries. The cost of making insulin products—even the newest insulin products—generally falls between $2 and $6 a vial, according to a 2018 study in BMJ Global Health. However, Lilly’s most commonly prescribed insulin product, Humalog U-100, currently has a list price of $274.70 for a single 10 mL vial.

Fury over insulin pricing peaked amid Twitter chaos late last year when an account posing as Lilly’s tweeted: “We’re excited to announce that insulin is now free.” As the company scrambled to remove the viral, but false, tweet, it apologized for the “misleading message.” This prompted Twitter users to criticize the company’s pricing, with one simply replying, “Apologize to diabetics for raising prices.”

“Deadly Fury”

According to today’s announcement, Lilly will cut the price of Humalog U-100 by up to 70 percent in the final quarter of this year, which could drop the price of a 10-ml vial from $274.70 to about $82. dollars. Another product, called Humulin, will also receive a 70 percent reduction through the end of the year. The delay is to give the company time to negotiate with insurance companies and pharmacy benefit managers. In the meantime, Lilly will drop the price of its unbranded generic version of Humalog, Insulin Lispro U-100, from $82.41 for a 10-mL vial to $25 a vial, effective May 1.

More than 37 million Americans live with a form of diabetes, and 8.4 million rely on insulin. Of those, 1.3 million—more than 15 percent of people who use insulin—dosage their insulin because of the high cost, according to a study published last year in the Annals of Internal Medicine.

With many people taking insulin needing multiple vials per month, the cost can easily run into the hundreds of dollars—hence the push for monthly caps, which are already in place for Medicare Part D beneficiaries. On Wednesday, Lilly said people with commercial insurance can now have an automatic cap of $35 a month if they buy their insulin at a participating retail pharmacy. People without insurance can go to InsulinAffordability.com and download a Lilly Insulin Value Program savings card to get insulin for $35 a month.

“The aggressive price reductions we’re announcing today should make a real difference for Americans with diabetes,” David Ricks, Lilly’s president and CEO, said in a statement today. He added that the company is “driving for change in the reformulation of older insulins” as it works to develop newer products, which will likely command high list prices.

Peter Maybarduk, director of the Access to Medicines program at Public Citizen, a public advocacy and watchdog organization that has campaigned with other groups for affordable insulin, called Lilly’s announcement “overdue” and “a recognition that insulin prices are a deadly anger”.

The announced plans “will provide some relief to many patients — though not all — and also begin to ease the burden of high insulin prices on health care costs, which everyone pays for through taxes and premiums,” Maybarduk said.

But, he added, “There is much more to do. Novo Nordisk and Sanofi should follow suit with price cuts immediately.”

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