Eli Lilly has been receiving a lot of negative attention in the news lately due to some lawsuits about product safety and kickback schemes, but the big pharma company hopes to get a more positive reaction to their newest statement. The company has announced that they plan to lower the costs of one of their insulin medications.
Soaring Insulin Prices Result in Outcry
For people with type 1 diabetes, their body does not make the insulin they need to properly metabolize sugar. Without this drug, diabetics are likely to die at young ages due to complications and damage from excessively high blood sugar. When it was first created, synthesized insulin was hailed as a miracle drug that would save countless lives.
Sadly, insulin’s status as a life-saving drug means that it is susceptible to extravagant price hikes. Since diabetics need insulin to live, many of the companies that produce insulin can raise prices without losing customers. Since short-acting insulin was first approved in 1996, its list price has risen over 1200%. In the past five years alone, insulin costs have almost doubled.
Since diabetics often need multiple vials of insulin each month, the costs can be prohibitive. There are plenty of stories of people having to cash out their retirement fund to stay alive now and parents going into intense debt after a child is diagnosed with type 1 diabetes. Due to the shocking price of insulin, there have been multiple investigations and Congressional hearings about insulin pricing lately.
Eli Lilly Cuts Generic Insulin Costs
In response to all the negative press about insulin costs, Eli Lilly has announced a plan to cut the price of their insulin in half. Currently, a vial of Eli Lilly’s Humalog insulin is $274.70. The company has decided to create an authorized generic version of Humalog. This medication will essentially be identical in formulation, but it will have different labeling.
According to Eli Lilly, their generic version will be put on the market at $137.35 per vial. This will be precisely half of what patients pay for the current branded version of Humalog. It is also about $60 less than the cost of the slower acting version of insulin, called Humulin, that Eli Lilly produces. To get this cheaper version of insulin, patients will need to specifically request it in many cases. Most prescriptions include a brand name, so people have to go out of their way to ask the pharmacy for a generic drug if they prefer it. In some cases, the way the doctor has filled out the prescription can prevent a patient from accessing generic medications.
Prices Remain High for Eli Lilly’s Branded Insulin
For quite a while, Eli Lilly had been routinely bumping up the price of their insulin every six months. Since there has been a media furor over the costs of insulin, Eli Lilly has been leaving their insulin prices alone. However, it is worth noting that the cost remains abnormally high even though the rate of price increase has slowed down.
The costs for insulin produced by big pharma companies first started to spike back in 2017, and most companies now have insulin at an all-time high. For those who are currently only prescribed brand name insulin, they will have to continue to pay the artificially inflated costs that are typically around $300. In other parts of the world, Humalog just costs somewhere between $16 to $30.
Even Reduced Costs Are Still Not Affordable for Many
Plenty of people have already demonstrated just how unsustainable typical insulin costs are, but the sad reality is that Eli Lilly’s move to cut prices still is not enough. Insulin costs have been inflated so sharply that even when the company cuts their insulin price in half, it still costs more than insulin did in 2012.
Many diabetic patients express their resentment that big pharma companies are essentially holding their lives hostage. They have no recourse when drug prices rise, since almost all types of insulin cost roughly the same. Those who do not want to die have no option other than paying more money. For some, this has caused them to lose their house, go into debt, or even contemplate moving to countries with socialized healthcare.
Health Insurance Provides Minimal Help for Poorer Customers
Of course much of the discussion around insulin costs focuses on the cash prices, so supporters of big pharma companies argue that these prices are not the type of costs faced by the average user. Sadly, even those with health insurance are still left struggling to pay for the simple medication they need to survive. On many plans, medications have to be purchased at full costs until a patient hits a deductible that can be as high as $8,000. Others are on plans where they are required to pay a percentage of the cost of a drug, so they are still affected by high prices.
It is worth pointing out that part of the reason pharmaceutical companies have high list prices is due to the private healthcare insurance system in place in America. Pharmaceutical companies spike their prices because they expect to be paid by an insurance company who will most likely negotiate a discount for bulk purchases. This means that they end up paying far less than the uninsured who are the ones truly in need of a price break.
Sadly, it does not look like there is an easy resolution to this issue. No corporation is going to drastically reduce their profits just because of some public disapproval. Even with reduced prices, insulin in the United States remains at unreasonably high costs that do not reflect the amount of research that went into the drug or the costs of producing the drug. Until more drastic measures are taken, both insured and uninsured diabetics are left having to choose between their finances and their health.