Lilly Launches cut-price Generic Insulin in US

  • Lilly Launches cut-price Generic Insulin in US (c) jetcity image / Getty ImagesLilly Launches cut-price Generic Insulin in US (c) jetcity image / Getty Images

Under the name Insulin Lispro, US drugmaker Eli Lilly plans to sell a generic version of its rapid-acting insulin Humalog. It will be priced 50% below the name-brand product, which will remain on the market.

Patients who must pay out of pocket will be the main beneficiary of the new generic. The company will continue selling the full-priced version coupled with rebates for patients whose insurance directly reimburses the cost.

Lilly’s announcement this week came amid a long-raging debate over the escalating cost of healthcare in the US. Politicians of all political stripes have expressed outrage in particular over high insulin prices, which news reports say have led some diabetes patients, especially those who have lost their insurance coverage with their jobs, to cut back on their injections.

Between 2001 and 2015, the US price of Humalog rose from $35 to $234, a 585% increase, according to a calculation presented by a bipartisan legislative panel. Members of Congress have written to Lilly as well as the other two in the trio of insulin makers active on the US market, including France’s Sanofi and Denmark’s Novo Nordisk, asking for information about their pricing.

While legislators and patients’ advocates tend to blame drugmakers for the surge in drug prices, in announcing its new generic – which will carry a list price of $137.35 per vial or $265.20 for a pack of five pens – Lilly’s chairman and CEO Dave Ricks blamed the US healthcare system.

In a statement, Ricks said the crunch is being felt most by privately insured patients with high deductibles. Quoting an estimate by health think-tank Centers for Disease Control (CDC), he said this is half of all privately insured, including everyone not eligible for the state-backed Medicare and Medicaid programs catering to elderly and low-income people and even Medicare patients with gaps in their coverage.

The Lilly chief said the new generic should serve as a bridge that addresses gaps in the current system until the country has “a more sustainable” healthcare situation.

“All of us in the health care community must do more to fix the problem,” he said.

One important change the US drugmaker supports, Ricks remarked, is the rebate reform proposed by Health & Human Services secretary Alex Azar, a former Lilly vice president. This, he added, would allow rebates in public health plans only if they are shared with patients.

While the company’s action on insulin and its CEO’s comments were welcomed cautiously by the political sector, which urged other drugmakers to follow suit, others were skeptical.

Ben Wakana, executive director of the advocacy group Patients for Affordable Drugs Now, slammed the move on Twitter as simply a “token PR play.” Other countries pay $20 for a vial of insulin,” he said. “Americans are getting ripped off at $140 per vial.”

The three insulin giants are currently embroiled in a class action lawsuit in which 67 patients accuse them of raising prices by more than 150% over five years. Specifically, the suit targets alleged “deceptive pricing practices.” The plaintiffs contend that the rebates awarded to pharmacy-benefit managers, who recommend which drugs should be covered by insurers, constitute kickbacks.

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