Sanofi turns to subscriptions to offer patients insulin at $99 per month

Louisiana has garnered plenty of headlines for its new "Netflix" approach to buying hepatitis C drugs. Now, Sanofi has unveiled a program that takes that model directly to patients, supplying insulin products for a flat monthly rate. 

The French drugmaker will use its Insulin Valyou Savings Program, which launched in a smaller form last year, to deliver its insulin products for $99 per month. At that fixed price, Sanofi will offer up to 10 boxes of insulin pens and 10 mL vials per month regardless of a patient's income.

The new plan comes as insulin has become a flash point in the drug pricing debate. It's designed for people who are exposed to high out-of-pocket costssuch as uninsured patientsand for those who don’t qualify for other access programs, a spokesman said. It’ll take effect in June. 

Last year, Sanofi introduced the Insulin Valyou Savings Program to offer its basal insulin Lantus and mealtime insulin Admelog at $99 for one 10 mL vial or $149 for a box of pens. The company later expanded the program to cover all its insulins.

The new $99-per-month price could be as little as one-tenth the amount patients would have paid before. The new structure can cover the full cost of patients’ needs and allow patients to mix and match vials and packs, plus insulin types, Adam Gluck, Sanofi’s head of U.S. external affairs, told FiercePharma. 

RELATED: Now that Lilly has a cheaper generic Humalog, will Novo Nordisk and Sanofi follow?

The company’s initial savings program made a difference for patients who had been paying list prices, said Michelle Carnahan, the company’s head of primary care in North America. But many patients needed more help. Sanofi went with the savings program approach, versus an authorized generic or list price cut, because it has full control over its access program, she said in an interview.

The drug pricing system “has so many unknowns and different pieces that we don’t fully control, it becomes hard to make change,” she said. Alternatively, "this is something that we can fully own."

One drawback is that Sanofi can’t offer the savings program to patients covered by Medicare or Medicaid. Sanofi said it supports changes to regulations that would allow Medicare and other patients to participate. Sanofi's move comes only a week after Cigna and Express Scripts unveiled a $25-per-month cap to insured patients' out-of-pocket insulin costs.

Wednesday's announcement is the latest move by an insulin maker to address access and affordability questions. For years, Sanofi, Eli Lilly and Novo Nordisk have faced investigations, lawsuits and criticism from patients over prices, which have been sharply climbing.

But drugmakers argue growing rebates are part of the problem. Eli Lilly recently disclosed that it raised Humalog’s list price 52% over five years, but due to growing rebates and discounts, the drug’s net price fell 8% over the same period. Sanofi itself paid out 55% of its U.S. gross sales in the form of rebates last year, including $4.5 billion in mandated rebates to government payers and $7.3 billion in “discretionary rebates.” 

To address the pricing criticism, Eli Lilly recently released an authorized generic to Humalog at a 50% discount to the branded version.