Lilly to sell insulin at 40 percent discount to cash-paying patients

Eli Lilly and Co. will bypass insurance companies to offer a 40 percent discount on its best-selling insulin products for patients who lack health coverage or have high deductibles that require them to pay the full cost of some medications.

Patients will be able to purchase the drugs through the digital startup Blink Health, Indianapolis-based Lilly said Monday in an emailed statement. Blink brings together pharmacy customers online to negotiate drug prices, typically for older, less-expensive treatments. The initiative, which starts next year, is its first foray into brand name therapies, providing access to Humalog, Lilly’s biggest product, with $2.8 billion in 2015 sales.

Pharmaceutical companies often give rebates to insurers so their products will be included on lists of covered drugs. While the practice provides cost savings to payers and their employer clients, many uninsured consumers pay full prices that are much higher. The Lilly program, coordinated by drug benefit manager Express Scripts Holdings Co., provides discounts directly to patients who now pay for their medicines out-of-pocket, or are meeting a deductible.

About 10 percent of patients who buy Lilly’s insulin fall into that category, said Mike Mason, vice president of Lilly Diabetes. The new program allows negotiated rebates to go directly to consumers, and will help them without disrupting the traditional coverage provided by insurers, he said.

Finding a solution

“We are essentially lowering our price without harming those who currently have insurance,” he said. “We’re just trying to find a solution that helps patients and closes this gap.”

Express Scripts is negotiating the rebate and working with Blink to get it to patients, said Jennifer Luddy, a spokeswoman for the company.

Under the program, patients will pay for their drugs via Blink’s online or mobile phone based system, receive a receipt and then collect the prescriptions from their own pharmacies, exchanging their proof-of-purchase for the products.

Customers will also be able to fill cheaper prescriptions for Humulin and Basaglar, Lilly’s copycat version of Sanofi’s best-selling Lantus insulin. The payments probably won’t count toward patients’ deductibles, and those whose prescription claims are covered by U.S. government programs aren’t eligible.

Health advocates have called attention to rising prices for insulin, which diabetics need to keep their blood sugar levels in check.

“The health care system is incredibly complex, and we hope this program is a first step that will drive more thinking and innovative solutions for people with diabetes,” said Enrique Conterno, president of the Lilly diabetes unit, in the statement. “We’re committed to seeking additional solutions so that everyone who uses insulin has reasonable access.”

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