Insulin Price Cuts: A Few Steps in the Right Direction
As someone who uses insulin to help manage type 2 diabetes, I was cheered by the news that Eli Lilly is lowering the list price of its insulins. It's a noteworthy milestone in the ongoing efforts to reduce the cost of managing diabetes.
Diabetes care is expensive
But my initial gladness is tempered by the reality that this price change hasn't really solved the high cost of insulin and other diabetes medications as a whole.
What are the details of the insulin price cut?
While Lilly announced that it is reducing its insulin list price, very few people pay the list price for their prescriptions. The cost that people will end up paying depends on whether or not they have health insurance and what their health insurance covers. So there's no guarantee that people will indeed pay less out-of-pocket for their insulin.
The announced price change only applies to 3 specific insulins on the market:1
- Eli Lilly's unbranded mealtime insulin lispro injection
- Humalog® (insulin lispro injection)
- Humulin® (insulin human)
People who don't already use these specific insulins may face an unanticipated consequence of this pricing change. They may find their doctor or health insurance company forcing them to change to one of these insulins to save money.
Switching insulin can create new challenges
Anyone who has switched insulins will tell you this is a major adjustment. Switching from one insulin to another isn't simply a matter of changing brands.
We talk about insulin as if every brand is the same, but that is not the case. Each brand of insulin has its own profile, meaning the strength and time it takes to affect glucose levels varies.
When switching insulins the dosing used often needs to be adjusted. And while these adjustments are being worked out, the risk of complications like hypoglycemia can increase for the person making the change.
When does the price reduction go into effect?
Even people currently using one of Lilly's insulins won't see cost savings immediately. The price change for Lilly's unbranded insulin is scheduled to take effect on May 1, 2023. The price changes for Humalog and Humulin will happen sometime during the 4th quarter of 2023. It will take months before anyone experiences the impact of these lower prices.
What is the Insulin Value Program?
The one change that has gone into effect immediately is that Eli Lilly has capped the monthly out-of-pocket cost for people who use its Insulin Value Program.2
Through this program, people can obtain a savings card to use at their pharmacies. Cardholders may pay "as little as $35 for a 30-day supply," however, there are annual caps on eligible purchases, and the program is not available to everyone.2
Jumping through more hoops
Ultimately, many challenges and barriers related to the high cost of managing diabetes remain. Nothing has happened to guarantee that healthcare insurance coverage will translate into easier access to lower out-of-pocket costs for insulin. The alternative offered under the Insulin Value Program involves jumping through the same hoops as before to get a savings card.
Other pharmaceutical companies cutting prices
Following Eli Lilly's news, Sanofi and Novo Nordisk announced their own insulin price cuts this week. While this is welcomed news, these announcements represent limited progress in making type 2 diabetes care more affordable. These newly announced price cuts don't take effect until 2024 and apply only to specific insulins and not their entire line of diabetes pharmaceuticals.3,4
A step forward to reduce diabetes-related costs
While Lilly's decision to reduce the list prices of its insulins is one notable step, much remains unchanged when it comes to bringing down the high out-of-pocket cost of managing diabetes. If you're unsure how these changes impact you, speak with your healthcare provider.
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