Another major insulin maker has promised steep price cuts, as pressure grows on drugmakers and insurers to trim the cost of a medication that millions of Americans need.
Novo Nordisk said Tuesday that it will slash some of its U.S. insulin prices up to 75% starting next year. The announcement comes less than two weeks after rival Eli Lilly said it will drop some of its prices by 70% or more later this year.
The American Diabetes Association says more than 8 million Americans use insulin, which the body needs to convert food into energy. People who have diabetes don’t produce enough insulin.
Research has shown that prices for the drug have more than tripled in the past couple of decades. High prices have prompted federal lawmakers including President Joe Biden to call for a broad cap on patient costs.
Experts say rounds of price cuts from drugmakers are helpful, but more needs to be done to make insulin widely affordable.
The price cuts laid out by Lilly and Novo Nordisk amount to “one step on one layer of the costs," said Dr. David Lam.
“We can’t let up the foot on the gas just yet and say, ‘Oh well, all our problems are going away,’” said the medical director for New York-based Mount Sinai Health System’s Clinical Diabetes Institute.
Insulin affordability in the United States depends largely on whether patients have health insurance and the details of that coverage.
People with employer-sponsored coverage, for instance, may pay little out of pocket for their insulin, or they might pay hundreds of dollars if they must first meet a high deductible before the coverage kicks in.
High deductibles also are common with coverage purchased through the individual insurance market. People with high deductibles or no insurance often are stuck paying high list prices that drugmakers initially charge for their products.
Lam said more than half of his diabetes patients struggle to afford insulin, with some paying several hundred dollars a month. Many also have to buy other prescriptions on top of their insulin.
“It becomes a huge bundle of medication costs,” Lam said.
Lilly CEO David Ricks noted last week that discounts the company offers from its list price often don’t reach patients through insurers or pharmacy benefit managers.
Major insulin makers like Lilly, Novo and the French pharmaceutical company Sanofi have several programs to help patients with costs. Those can include free refills for people with low incomes, co-payment assistance and caps on costs for the uninsured.
But Lam said it can sometimes be hard for patients to qualify for drugmaker assistance programs.
Novo Nordisk said Tuesday that pre-filled pens and vials of long- and short-acting insulins will see list price reductions. They include Levemir, Novolin, NovoLog and NovoLog Mix70/30.
Novo also will drop the list price of unbranded products like Insulin Aspart to match the lower price of the branded insulins.
The price cuts go into effect Jan. 1. A vial of NovoLog and NovoLog Mix 70/30 will drop 75% to $72.34 from $289.36. FlexPen options will fall to $139.71 from more than $500.
Levemir and Novolin vials and FlexPens will drop 65% from their current list prices.
The drugmaker price cuts come a couple of months after the federal government started applying a $35 cap on monthly out-of-pocket costs to patients with coverage through its Medicare program for people age 65 and older or those who have certain disabilities or illnesses. ____
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