Lilly says it will cut prices of 2 old insulin products 70% this year, and immediately cap the cost of another one at $25 per vial

Eli Lilly & Co. announced Wednesday that it will cut the prices of some of its older insulin products this year “and immediately expand a cap on costs insured patients pay to fill prescriptions,” The Associated Press reports.

That will provide “critical relief to some people with diabetes who can face annual costs of more than $1,000 for insulin they need in order to live,” AP’s Tom Murphy writes. “Lilly’s changes also come as lawmakers and patient advocates pressure drugmakers to do something about soaring prices.”

Lilly said it will cut by 70 percent the list prices for its most-prescribed insulin, Humalog, and for another one, Humulin, in the fourth quarter of the year, which starts in September. “The drugmaker didn’t detail what the new prices would be,” Murphy notes. “List prices are what a drugmaker initially sets for a product and what people who have no insurance or plans with high deductibles are sometimes stuck paying.”

Stacie Dusetzina, a health policy professor at Vanderbilt University who studies drug costs, told Murphy that the changes probably won’t affect Indianapolis-based Lilly much financially because the two insulins already have competition.

The authorized generic version of another Lilly insulin, Humalog, will be cut to $25 a vial starting in May. “The cost of a prescription for generic Humalog ranges between $44 and close to $100 on the website GoodRx,” Murphy notes.

Lilly CEO David Ricks said in a press release that it will take some time for insurers and the pharmacy system to implement the price cuts, so the company will immediately cap monthly out-of-pocket costs at $35 for people who are not covered by Medicare’s prescription-drug program. It said the cap applies to people with commercial coverage and at most retail pharmacies.

Medicare started applying that cap in January, as part of recent legislation.

“Aside from Eli Lilly and the French drugmaker Sanofi, other insulin makers include the Danish pharmaceutical company Novo Nordisk,” Murphy reports. “Lilly also is launching in April a biosimilar insulin to compete with Sanofi’s Lantus.”

Insulin is an essential hormone that converts food into energy. “People who have diabetes don’t produce enough insulin,” Murphy notes. “People with Type 1 diabetes must take insulin every day to survive. More than 8 million Americans use insulin, according to the American Diabetes Association. Research has shown that prices for insulin have more than tripled in the last two decades, and pressure is growing on drugmakers to slow the increases.”

Drug manufacturer may be seeing “the writing on the wall that high prices can’t persist forever,” said Larry Levitt, an executive vice president with the nonprofit Kaiser Family Foundation, which studies health care, told Murphy. “Lilly is trying to get out ahead of the issue and look to the public like the good guy.”

Lilly was the first company to commercialize insulin in 1923, “two years after University of Toronto scientists discovered it,” Murphy notes. “The drugmaker then built its reputation around producing insulin even as it branched into cancer treatments, antipsychotics and other drugs.”
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