Mar 1, 2023 - Health

Under pressure, Eli Lilly cuts insulin prices

Illustration of a syringe pulling from a vial with a hundred dollar bill as a label.

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

Eli Lilly is slashing prices on its most-prescribed insulins and capping out-of-pocket costs for patients amid pressure from consumers and the Biden administration.

Driving the news: After years of price hikes on insulin, Lilly on Wednesday said people with diabetes would see 70% reductions on its most common versions.

  • The prices of Humalog, the company's top insulin product, and Humulin will fall 70% in the fourth quarter, according to the company.
  • The price of generic insulin lispro, which is the same product as Humalog, will drop May 1 to $25 a vial, which Lilly says is less than Humalog cost in 1999. Humalog and the generic version are rapid insulins used to control high blood sugar in adults and children with type 1 and 2 diabetes.
  • Lilly also said it would cap out-of-pocket costs for its insulin at $35 a month at some retail pharmacies.

Why it matters: More than 1 million American adults ration insulin because of its high costs, according to a study in the Annals of Internal Medicine, Axios' Oriana Gonzalez writes.

Flashback: Lilly's move comes amid a push by President Biden and some in Congress to cap out-of-pocket insulin costs for commercially insured patients.

  • The Inflation Reduction Act limited monthly out-of-pocket insulin costs to $35 for Medicare beneficiaries starting this year but didn't extend the cap to the private market. Many Republicans view such a move as interfering with the market.
  • Lilly also has been striking deals to boost affordable insulin in developing nations, most recently Bangladesh, per Fierce Pharma.
  • Lilly, Novartis and Novo Nordisk dominate the U.S. insulin market.
  • A recent Axios-Ipsos poll found that 84% of Americans strongly or somewhat support placing a $35-per-month limit on the out-of-pocket costs for insulin.

What they're saying: Lilly's move is renewing calls for Congress to mandate a price cap.

  • Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.) said it was "about time" for Lilly to take this "long overdue step," adding, I’m going to keep pushing in Congress to cap the cost of insulin for everyone.”
  • Lilly CEO David Ricks says he is fine with that. "I think the [Medicare] Part D development last year was a very positive thing," he said of the $35 monthly price cap. "We'd like to see that applied to commercial markets ... We're making that choice today."

The intrigue: Ricks during a Wednesday news conference brushed off questions about the broader impacts of the move, as well as financial implications to the company, at one point telling a reporter: "This isn't an investor conference."

  • Lilly executives were united on one talking point: "We're doing this completely voluntarily because it's time and it's the right thing to do," Ricks said.

The bottom line: Lilly, depicted by some activists and some Democrats as a villain over long-escalating insulin costs, is portraying its $35-a-month price cap as a deliberate solution to the problem — even as critics argue Lilly slow-walked to this point.

Editor's note: This article has been updated with new details throughout.

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