(CNN) — Eli Lilly announced Wednesday a series of price cuts that would lower the price of the most commonly used forms of its insulin 70% and said it will automatically cap out-of-pocket insulin costs at $35 for people who have private insurance and use participating pharmacies.
Lilly says it will also expand its Insulin Value Program, which caps out-of-pocket costs at $35 or less per month for people who are uninsured.
President Joe Biden heralded the announcement as “a big deal.”
“For far too long, American families have been crushed by drug costs many times higher than what people in other countries are charged for the same prescriptions. Insulin costs less than $10 to make, but Americans are sometimes forced to pay over $300 for it. It’s flat wrong,” Biden said in a statement on Wednesday.
The President also urged other pharmaceutical companies to cut insulin prices.
“Last year, I signed a law to cap insulin at $35 for seniors and I called on pharma companies to bring prices down for everyone on their own. Today, Eli Lilly did that. It’s a big deal, and it’s time for other manufacturers to follow,” Biden said.
Eli Lilly says it will cut the list price of its nonbranded insulin to $25 a vial as of May 1, making it the lowest list-priced mealtime insulin available. Its current list price is $82.41 for a vial.
Lilly will also lower the list price of Humulin and its most commonly prescribed insulin, Humalog, in the fourth quarter of 2023. The current list price of a Humalog vial is $274.70, and the new list price will be $66.40. For people with commercial insurance who use participating pharmacies, the out-of-pocket costs will now be capped at $35.
Although insulin is relatively inexpensive to manufacture, the cost has been a problem for many Americans for years. At least 16.5% of people in the US who use it report rationing it because of cost.
The average price of insulin nearly tripled between 2002 and 2013, the American Diabetes Association says. GoodRx research shows that the trend has continued, with the average retail price of insulin rising 54% between 2014 and 2019.
Demand for insulin has grown significantly as diabetes has become the fastest-growing chronic disease in the world, a 2022 study found.
In the US alone, the number of adults with diabetes has doubled over the past 20 years, and more than 37.3 million people now have it, according to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Another 96 million Americans — 38% of the population — have prediabetes, a condition in which blood sugar levels are higher than normal but not high enough for a diagnosis of type 2 diabetes. This can often lead to diabetes.
People with diabetes rely on insulin because their bodies have stopped producing enough of this hormone or aren’t using it efficiently to convert food into energy.
When a person eats, their body breaks down food, mostly into sugar. This sugar enters the bloodstream, and that signals the pancreas to release insulin, which works like a key that allows the sugar to energize cells. But if diabetes keeps sugar in the bloodstream for too long, it can lead to serious problems like kidney disease, heart problems and blindness. In 2019, diabetes was the seventh leading cause of death in the US, according to the American Diabetes Association.
This year’s Inflation Reduction Act capped insulin costs for seniors who get their health coverage through Medicare Part D at $35 a month. Congressional Democrats pushed to extend that price cap to people covered by private insurance, but Republicans stripped that measure from the bill.
The US Food and Drug Administration’s approvals of generic insulin and biosimilars — drugs similar to original versions that can be made differently or with slightly different substances — have driven down the price at least somewhat, according to GoodRx.
Some states have taken matters into their own hands. Twenty-two states and the District of Columbia have price caps ranging from $25 to $100 for insulin as well as diabetes supplies and devices — but that’s only for people covered by insurance plans regulated by those states.
“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,” David A. Ricks, Lilly’s chair and CEO, said in a statement. “The aggressive price cuts we’re announcing today should make a real difference for Americans with diabetes. Because these price cuts will take time for the insurance and pharmacy system to implement, we are taking the additional step to immediately cap out-of-pocket costs for patients who use Lilly insulin and are not covered by the recent Medicare Part D cap.”
Lilly has been one of the biggest players in the US insulin market since it became the first company to commercialize the lifesaving drug 100 years ago. The company said that its price changes should make a difference, but more is needed to help all Americans with diabetes — 7 out of 10 don’t use the company’s insulin.
The Medicare Part D cap “should be the new standard in America,” Ricks said on CNN This Morning on Wednesday.
He called on the insurance industry, policymakers and other manufacturers to join them in making insulin more affordable.
“We call on everyone to meet us at this point and take this issue away from a disease that’s stressful and difficult to manage already — to take away the affordability challenges,” Ricks told CNN’s Don Lemon.
Other companies have cut insulin costs over the years.
In 2019, Sanofi created the Insulin Valyou Savings Program, which charged patients $99 a month for insulin, regardless of income. In 2021, Novo Nordisk created a similar program called My$99Insulin.
Also that year, Novo Nordisk collaborated with Walmart to sell private-label analog insulin at a deep discount. Walmart said its ReliOn NovoLog vials and FlexPens save customers 58% to 75% off the cash price for branded insulin.
For Eli Lilly insulin, the new price cap will automatically apply at most pharmacies with no additional action from the patient. Otherwise, a coupon will be available for patients to use at the remaining 15% of pharmacies where the electronic system does not allow for the automatic price drop, Ricks said.