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Lilly breaks its promise to offer lower-cost insulin

Written by Diane Archer

Eli Lilly may be talking the right talk when it comes to insulin prices, but it is not walking the walk, according to a report by Senators Richard Blumenthal and Elizabeth Warren. Eli Lilly’s new generic version of Humalog, Lispro, which it promised to sell at lower cost, tends to be out of stock at pharmacies. And, when surveyed, many pharmacies did not know it was even available.

Senators Blumenthal and Warren surveyed 190 chain pharmacies and 196 independent pharmacies across the US about the availability of lower-cost insulin over a five-month period in 2019. And, it found that lower-cost insulin is hard to find. Only 17 percent of pharmacies had it in stock.

What’s worse, the pharmacies that did stock Lispro were not telling their customers about it.  And, nearly seven in ten pharmacies that did not carry Lispro reported that they could not order it. Instead, prices for insulin are sky high.

It’s not clear why insurers have not been informing their members to use Lispro. Stat News reports that many insurers do not even include Lispro on their formulary. Rather, insurers are driving up costs for people with diabetes.

Warren and Blumenthal believe that it’s time that Congress took action to rein in high drug prices. In the meantime, they want Lilly to deliver on its promise and lower the price of insulin. It charges far lower prices abroad for Humalog.

Some 30 million Americans have diabetes, more than one in every nine people. The price of insulin should be very low, given that it was discovered 100 years ago. Instead, its cost has more than tripled in the last 20 years. The cost of a 10 ml vial of Humalog is nearly seven times what it was in 2001, $275 today as compared with $35 in 2001. A typical person with diabetes uses between two and four vials a month at a cost of about $1,000.

Of course, people with drug coverage typically pay only a small fraction of the cost at the pharmacy. But, everyone with insurance pays high premiums because the cost of drugs are so high. If insurers are not covering the generic version, they’re likely also making money off the higher cost.

Given their findings, Senators Blumenthal and Warren question whether generics can deliver Americans the low prices people assume they deliver. They offer several recommendations to address the high cost of insulin and other critical and life-saving drugs. First and foremost, they say that Congress must act to reduce the price of drugs across the US, including for people with Medicare. Congress should also allow safe importation of drugs. And, it should allow the federal government to develop generic drugs, including insulin, when the market is not producing them as it should.

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