Insulin: “Poster Child For Everything That’s Wrong” with U.S Drug Costs

Fortune Dec 2021-Jan 2022: Insulin’s Deadly Cost Thanks to Stan Cohen for sharing article.

Some excerpts/key points:

  • “Insulin in the U.S. costs on average some 800% more than in other developed economies. And yes, people die for lack of it, sometimes within days or even hours of missing their dose. No one knows how many; data suggests that in the U.S. it’s at least a few every day. Far more may suffer other ravages of diabetes—blindness, heart attacks, loss of limbs.” In addition, 40% of Americans who have died from COVID-19 were diabetics.
  • “Manufacturer’s compete not by cutting prices but by raising them.” This is often due to pharmacy benefit managers (PBMs), the middleman between manufacturer’s and insurers. PBMs negotiate drug prices and establish formularies. PBMs make more money if they able to discount higher rebates on the list cost; hence, to influence PBMs to choose their products, manufacturer’s are incentivized to raise drug costs, even if the average price is unchanged. Higher list prices affect those least able to cover the costs, namely those without insurance as well as many with high deductibles.
  • List price for Humalog (Eli Lilly) more than doubled from 2013 to 2018, Lantus (Sanofi) more than quadrupled from 2005 to 2016
  • Some patients have obtained insulin in Canada where costs for a vial could be more than 10-fold less (though this is illegal). There are also more than 12,000 GoFundMe.com listings with “insulin” in the title.
  • For the insulin market, some recent changes include the emergence of GLP-1 analogs for Type 2 diabetes (~90% of diabetes in U.S.). Trulicity is now Eli Lilly’s bestselling medication. In addition, the FDA recently approved Semglee, an interchangeable biosimilar for Lantus which is reducing costs.

My take: “The story of insulin is a poster child for everything that’s wrong with a free-market approach to drug availability,” says Arthur Caplan…”It’s almost inexcusable morally.”

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1 thought on “Insulin: “Poster Child For Everything That’s Wrong” with U.S Drug Costs

  1. Pingback: Why I No Longer Need to Be A Billionaire | gutsandgrowth

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