Insulin prices in US remain higher than most
tiny tube inserted under the skin and attached to a pump. People with Type 2 diabetes still make insulin, but often not enough. Some people with Type 2 diabetes also need to use insulin. with a branded product.
But the authors said that current insulin makers have blocked the entry to such products by getting new patents based on things such as a new delivery device.
Kesselheim also noted that “insulin is a slightly more complicated molecule,” which makes developing a generic version more challenging.
He said that the makers of insulin have begun selling “authorized generics” of their brand-name products. Eli Lilly and Co. is selling a generic version of their branded insulin Humalog for 50% less than the brand-name product, according to Greg Kueterman, a company spokesperson.
Kueterman added that Eli Lilly doesn’t currently have any patent-protected insulins.
He said the company is also capping prices at the pharmacy for people with commercial health insurance, and increasing eligibility for free insulin for those with very low incomes.
Quinn Nystrom, 33, from Baxter, Minnesota, has Type 1 diabetes. She’s been working with local and federal elected officials to improve insulin access and affordability.
She’s helped lead three bus trips to Canada so people could buy more affordable insulin. The same vial of insulin that she pays $340 for in the U.S. costs $30 in Canada, she said.
“A single vial of current analog insulin costs around $3 to $6 to make. There is no reason for that price difference between the U.S. and Canada, other than that Canada holds down their drug prices with legislation,” Nystrom said.
But she doesn’t see trips to Canada as a solution to the insulin pricing problem.
Nystrom has become so frustrated by inaction on the insulin pricing issue and the price of drugs in general that she’s decided to run for U.S. Congress, and has pledged that she won’t be taking any drug or insurance company money for her campaign.
She pointed out that insulin pricing affects everyone, diabetic or not. “If someone can’t afford insulin, they end up rationing the insulin they have,” Nystrom said. That leads to complications that send people to the hospital, which ends up costing far more than the insulin would have.
Some politicians have introduced legislation to help contain the cost of insulin, with varying success.
Officials in Colorado passed a bill that limits out-of-pocket copays to no more than $100 a month for insulin.
Several federal bills have also been introduced, including by presidential candidate Elizabeth Warren. “Warren’s bill would develop a government manufacturing facility to provide lower-cost insulin,” Kesselheim said.
Cigna, a large private insurer, has limited monthly copayments for insulin to $25.
The average price of insulin in the U.S. nearly tripled between 2002 and 2013, according to an American Diabetes Association study.