After last year’s “Free Insulin” Twitter debacle prompted Eli Lilly to do some soul searching over the cost of its insulin in the U.S., the Indianapolis-based company has come back from the drawing board with a major discount in hand.
Lilly on Wednesday said it’s cutting the cost of its most commonly prescribed insulins by 70%. Moreover, the company is expanding its Insulin Value Program to cap patient out-of-pocket costs at $35 or less per month. Lilly said it’s charting the move to “make it easier to access Lilly insulin and help Americans who may have difficulty navigating a complex healthcare system.”
The move allows Lilly to get ahead of calls to cap insulin costs for all diabetics. During last month's State of the Union speech, President Joe Biden called on Congress to limit insulin costs for all patients at $35 per month. Already, the Inflation Reduction Act limits insulin costs for patients on Medicare at $35 per month.
Taking a deeper dive into Lilly’s insulin cost-cutting campaign, the company will slash the list price of its unbranded insulin, insulin lispro injection, to $25 a vial. The price cut takes effect May 1, at which point Lilly’s insulin lispro will become the “lowest list-price mealtime insulin available,” costing less than the price of a Humalog vial in 1999, the company notes.
Lilly is further cutting the cost of Humalog—its most commonly prescribed insulin—plus Humulin by 70% in the fourth quarter of 2023.
On its website, Lilly lists the costs of a five-pack of Humalog pens at $530.40 before discounts, while a vial of the insulin runs for about $274. Humulin, for its part, is priced at around $107 a vial before discounts, according to online sources.
The final part of Lilly’s cost-cutting strategy hinges on the launch of Rezvoglar, the company’s biosimilar to Sanofi’s popular insulin Lantus. Starting April 1, the copycat med will cost $92 for a pack of five “KwikPens,” representing a 78% discount to Lantus.
Meanwhile, Lilly is automatically capping insulin out-of-pocket costs at $35 at participating retail pharmacies for patients with commercial insurance. Those without insurance can continue to use Lilly’s Insulin Value Program savings card to receive the essential medicine for $35 a month, the company explained.
Lilly sees the move as a call to action for others in the industry and beyond.
“We need the rest of the healthcare system to catch up and step up with us to eliminate the existing barriers to insulin access and affordability,” Ricks said on a call with journalists. Outside of big companies, he called on lawmakers to pass “comprehensive” solutions and public policies to help move the U.S. healthcare system from a “series of patchwork solutions to systematic change.”
President Joe Biden largely concurred. In a statement, he noted the move by Lilly was a “big deal” and urged other insulin manufacturers to follow suit.
To help get the word out, Lilly says it will launch a nationwide public awareness campaign in the coming weeks to help Lilly insulin users understand how to reap the benefits of the cost cuts.
The move helps Lilly get a leg up on a $35 insulin cap being rolled out under Democrats’ Inflation Reduction Act—though that provision only pertains to patients on Medicare. Still, experts have predicted that the measure might gain steam beyond the new law.
As for Eli Lilly's insulin compatriots, Novo Nordisk and Sanofi have been no slouches either when it comes to access. Back in 2020, Novo delivered on two prior plans—dishing up generics options and a $99-per-month, with-or-without insurance plan—alongside an “immediate supply program.” The company also sells its human insulin in the U.S. for around $25 per vial. And, last summer, Sanofi said it would slash the price of its fleet of insulin products to uninsured people in the U.S. from $99 per month to $35.
Last year, Lilly had a very public reckoning over the issue of insulin costs after a Twitter troll, masquerading as the company under a fake handle, proclaimed that Lilly was making its insulin free.
Lilly issued a rare apology at the time and ultimately pulled its ads from Twitter. Still, the move appears to have galvanized Lilly on the pricing front. The situation “probably highlights that we have more work to do to bring down the cost of insulin for more people,” multiple outlets quoted Ricks as saying in the aftermath of the Twitter fiasco.
Editor's note: This story was updated with a quote from Lilly CEO Dave Ricks.