Eli Lilly and Co., facing criticism for the high cost of its insulin and other products, announced Monday morning that it will bring to market a generic version of its most popular insulin, Humalog, at 50 percent off the list price.
“There are clearly patients who, despite many best efforts, are struggling to afford their insulin,” Lilly CEO David Ricks said in an interview with The New York Times. “This is a step we can take to close part of that remaining gap.”
The lower-priced version, called Insulin Lispo, will have a list price for a single vial of $137.35. The list price of a five-pack of insulin pens will be $265.20. Indianapolis-based Lilly says it already has developed and manufactured the lower-priced insulin and is rushing it to pharmacies.
The rollout comes at a time the pharmaceutical industry is facing sharp criticism from Washington, D.C., and from candidates for president over escalating drug prices.
Insulin makers have weathered perhaps the sharpest attacks. Though the life-saving diabetes treatment was introduced nearly a century ago, the three firms that control the market—Lilly, Novo Nordisk and Sanofi—have aggressively raised prices.
The drugmakers have said that developing their products is a risky and costly process, and their prices reflect that. Some also have noted that while initial list prices are rising, the net price their companies receive after giving rebates has been relatively stable.
List prices are initial figures drugmakers attach to a product and are typically knocked down by rebates negotiated with pharmacy benefit managers. But those initial prices can still hurt patients without coverage or those who must first pay high deductibles before their coverage starts.
Lispo is aimed at insulin users who pay for insulin out of pocket and miss out on the large discounts or rebates insurers and employers receive for buying brand-name drugs.
Derek Rapp, CEO of the New York-based diabetes advocacy group JDRF, told The New York Times: “This announcement is a great step forward to make insulin more affordable.” He called on “all other insulin manufacturers to follow Eli Lilly in finding ways to bring down the price of this life-saving drug.”
In a blog post Monday morning, Ricks said that the increased adoption of high-deductive health plans has put added pressure on patients. The plans typically require patients to pay several thousand dollars for their medicines, until they reach their deductibles.
Ricks said that when patients buy prescriptions at their pharmacies, the health plans typically don’t pass along the rebates they receive from drug companies, instead using that money to reduce premiums for all members of their plan or for other priorities.
“The result is that people with chronic diseases like diabetes subsidize insurance for everyone else. This has to change,” Ricks wrote.
“While [the introduction of Lispo] is a step in the right direction, all of us in the health care community must do more to fix the problem of high out-of-pocket costs for Americans living with chronic conditions.”
Insulin is a hormone made by the pancreas that helps the body use glucose for energy. When a patient's body doesn't make enough insulin, they have to take it by injection or through a pump.
The average insulin price nearly tripled from 2002 through 2013, according to the American Diabetes Association. Since then, prices have continued to rise, often by 10 percent or more a year, and some patients have resorted to rationing their insulin.