- Beginning in April, diabetes drugmaker Eli Lilly will offer half-price versions of two of its injectable insulin products, expanding a strategy begun last year to make available lower cost alternatives for people without insurance or whose insurance plans have high deductibles.
- The Indianapolis pharma will sell new versions of Humalog Mix75/25 KwikPen and Humalog Junior KwikPen at a 50% discount to the original branded products, pricing both at $265.20 for a package of five KwikPens. That's similar to the cost of the half-price Humalog Lilly introduced in March 2019.
- Lilly's competitors, the Danish company Novo Nordisk and French drugmaker Sanofi, have made comparable moves with their own insulin products as all three pharmas struggle to manage political and public criticism over list price increases.
Rising insulin costs are a focal point for scrutiny of drug prices in the U.S., even as drugmakers like Lilly argue that criticism is misplaced.
The introduction of lower cost, generic-styled alternatives, which can be substituted by pharmacists for the full-price option, are part of their answer.
Similar to Lilly, Novo in September rolled out half-priced versions to its NovoLog (insulin aspart) and NovoLog Mix products, while Sanofi offers a savings program that makes up to 10 boxes of insulin pens available for $99 per month.
People with diabetes without insurance, or who have particularly high deductibles in their plans, are the principal focus for these programs, which aim to limit out-of-pocket costs.
That the companies need to take these steps is a product of both their own actions to raise list prices to levels people without insurance find unaffordable, as well as a system that forces drugmakers to offer larger and larger rebates off of their products' list price. The resulting net prices are significantly lower, but patients don't necessarily see those discounts reflected in their own costs.
Lilly, for example, claimed last March that, while it's raised the list price on its Humalog U100 (insulin lispro) product by 52% from 2014 to mid-2017, the net price actually fell 8% over that time.
How effective these lower priced alternatives will be in easing affordability concerns is still unclear.
In its statement introducing the two new insulin products, Lilly said 67,000 people filled prescriptions for its low-cost Humalog alternative in November and that roughly 10% of people taking Humalog have transitioned over to the cheaper option.
But a December 2019 survey by Sens. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., and Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., found that the low-priced Humalog alternative was not in stock and available for pick-up at 83% of 386 pharmacies contacted by the lawmakers' staff.
"The findings also raise questions about the ability of authorized generics to deliver real savings to consumers," the report stated.