The largest domestic manufacturer of insulin, Indiana-based Eli Lilly, announced a 70% price reduction on its widely distributed insulin products that millions of Americans depend on to manage diabetes. The long-overdue action came after President Biden announced his intention the week before to expand a new $35/month insulin cap for people in Medicare to cover everyone in America.
Patients have railed against high insulin prices for years, forcing legislative action in over 20 states and building momentum for national reform that has resulted in 4 million Americans in Medicare getting more affordable insulin under the Inflation Reduction Act which passed at the end of last year.
Earlier in 2022, patient advocates from TI International once again took to the streets outside Lilly’s headquarters to demand action and advocates from Lower Drug Prices Now, an HCAN partner, spent years highlighting prescription drug price gouging.
In August, 2022, Congress delivered on their promise to lower prices by passing the Inflation Reduction Act to lower out of pocket prices on insulin and other medicines for people in Medicare, enabling Medicare to negotiate prices on the most expensive drugs for the first time and penalizing companies that raise prices faster than the rate of inflation. Republicans blocked efforts to extend these reforms to over 150 million with private insurance.
Now, less than one year into the implementation of the Medicare prescription drug reforms, Republicans are clamoring to repeal the new law–including the $35/month insulin cap. President Biden, meanwhile, continues to urge expansion of lower prices, urging Congress to pass a national $35 insulin cap in his State of the Union address.
For years, drug corporations that sell insulin like Eli Lilly, Novo Nordisk and Sanofi price-gouged patients, raising prices hundreds of dollars and putting the life-saving medicine out of reach for many. Drug corporations tripled prices on insulin over a decade. Some Americans, particularly uninsured people, paid as much as $1000 a month for insulin because of the rising cost.
The researchers who discovered insulin in 1921 sold their patent to the University of Toronto but refused to collect a profit because they viewed the medicine as a public good that should be available to all. For decades, the price of insulin remained as affordable as any household item.
But that all changed in more recent years, when drug corporations started to patent the medicine and raise prices to increase profits. Now the products cost hundreds of dollars a month and those price-increases have hurt patients, even costing some their lives.
Humalog, Lilly’s most prescribed insulin, currently has a list price of $530 for a five-pack of injection pens and $274 for a vial. Lilly will drop the price down to about $160 starting in the fourth quarter of 2023. Lilly’s most affordable insulin, the Lispro injection, will cost $25 per vial starting May 1, compared to $82.41 right now. Lilly’s price drops will amount to a $35/month cap for some patients, depending on which insulin they use.
Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT), Chair of the HELP committee, sent letters to the other two insulin manufacturers, calling on them to do the same. Sanders also announced he’ll be introducing a bill to limit the price of insulin to $20/vial.
Lilly’s action to lower prices is welcome, but make no mistake, this corporation is not motivated by repentance for years of price-gouging that denied patients access to medicine they need. Eli Lilly sees the writing on the wall: the public and their elected representatives want lower drug prices now and if corporations refuse to lower those prices, Congress will do it–just as they are doing in Medicare.
Insulin is a good start, but lower prices on prescriptions that millions of people need can’t be achieved drug by drug or company by company. We need Congressional action that will end drug corporations’ monopoly power to set high launch prices, to raise prices anytime they want and to raise their prices faster than the rate of inflation.
Every Member of Congress should get on the right side of this debate by standing against corporate price gouging and standing up instead for affordable, accessible medicines for everyone who needs them.