Lilly to cut price of popular insulins by 70%
Bowing to growing pressure from consumers and the government, Eli Lilly and Co. (NYSE: LLY) on Wednesday announced it is cutting prices by 70% for some of its most commonly prescribed insulins.
The Indianapolis-based drugmaker also said it will expand a program that caps patient out-of-pocket costs at $35 or less a month.
The moves comes less than a month after President Biden called on Congress to pass a law placing a universal price cap on insulin for all diabetes patients. His signature legislative achievement, the Inflation Reduction Act, capped insulin prices for Medicare recipients at $35 per month, but the law did not apply to younger diabetes patients.
Earlier this year, California officials sued Lilly and two other large drugmakers, accusing them of scheming to illegally increase the price of the drug.
Lilly said it was taking the actions “to make it easier to access Lilly insulin and help Americans who may have difficulty navigating a complex healthcare system that may keep them from getting affordable insulin.”
“While the current healthcare system provides access to insulin for most people with diabetes, it still does not provide affordable insulin for everyone and that needs to change,” CEO David Ricks said in a media release. “The aggressive price cuts we’re announcing today should make a real difference for Americans with diabetes.”
The reduction will cover several older insulins that have gone off-patent, and will not cover newer, hot-selling Lilly diabetes products, such as Trulicity and Mounjaro.
Lilly said it was cutting its non-branded insulin, Insulin Lispro Injection 100 units/mL, to $25 a vial. It also said it was cutting its insulin Humalog (insulin lispro injection) 100 units/mL and Humulin (insulin human) injection 100 units/mL2 by 70%, but did not give a price.
Last year, Humulin rang up sales of $1.01 billion, down 17%. Humalog rang up sales of $2.1 billion, down 16%.
Lilly also said it was launching Rezvoglar injection, a basal insulin that is biosimilar to, and interchangeable with, Lantus injection, for $92 per five pack of KwikPens, a 78% discount to Lantus.
“Today is really about lowering the cost of older insulins,” Ricks said in a press conference. “I think that’s what people expect from our industry is that things get cheaper as they get to the end of their lifecycle.”
Ricks said he had “not been in conversations” with the Biden administration before rolling out the pricing announcement. But he said the company has had many conversations with Congress.
In response to Lilly’s announcement, Biden tweeted: “Huge news. Last year, we capped insulin prices for seniors on Medicare, but there was more work to do. I called on Congress—and manufacturers—to lower insulin prices for everyone else. Today, Eli Lilly is heeding my call. Others should follow.”
Joseph Ross, a professor at Yale Medical School, called the announcements “long overdue.”
“For too many years, patients who required insulin therapy have endured countless unwarranted price hikes by manufacturers, placing many at great financial and medical risk,” he told the medical news site STAT.
But Ricks said the company has been working for several years to contain insulin prices. In 2019, Lilly and a major insurance company, UnitedHealthcare, approached the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, asking them to run a pilot to cap the cost of insulin in the Part D benefit the senior Medicare program, he said.
“And that was pretty successful as a pilot, that became the basis for the $35 cap we now have across the country, for all insulins” under Medicare, he said.
He said the company lobbied to support Biden’s Inflation Reduction Act and today would support a similar law to cover patients who have commercial insurance.
Lilly was the first company to mass-produce insulin in the 1920s from the pancreas glands of livestock. Today, insulin remains Lilly’s oldest and perhaps most famous franchise.
The company said because these price cuts will take time for the insurance and pharmacy system to implement, it will immediately cap out-of-pocket costs for patients who use Lilly insulin and are not covered by the recent Medicare Part D cap for people with commercial insurance.
People who don’t have insurance can continue to go to InsulinAffordability.com and immediately download the Lilly Insulin Value Program savings card to receive Lilly insulins for $35 per month, the company said.
In recent years, Lilly has rolled out multiple insulin price packages on insulin. As a result, the average out-of-pocket cost for Lilly insulins has dropped to $21.80 over the last five years, the company said.
Ricks said Lilly stopped increasing list prices on insulins in 2017, but another company official, Mike Mason, declined to provide information on net prices—or the price of insulin after discounts and rebates—calling it proprietary information in a competitive industry.
Still, a 2021 study by the Rand Corp. comparing the insulin prices of nearly three dozen countries found prices in the United States were about 10 times higher than everywhere else. The average price of a vial of insulin in the United States was $98, while in nearby Canada it was $12.
Ricks threw out a challenge other players in the U.S. health-care system to reduce the price of diabetes drugs.
“To my friends and colleagues who are running large companies or big employers, we urge you to share manufacturer rebates directly with your beneficiaries and employees at the point of sale, and exempt insulin and other life saving and life sustaining drugs from insurance deductibles,” he said.
He also pushed for laws that would ensure that rebates get into the hands of patients, instead of pharmacy benefits managers, the power middlemen that negotiate drug prices, discounts and rebates between drugmakers, pharmacies and benefit plans.
“Together we can create change that makes a real impact in eliminating all existing barriers to access and affordability for people who use insulin,” Ricks said.