Many Americans won't benefit from Eli Lilly's insulin price cut

Posted at 5:46 AM, Mar 07, 2023
and last updated 2023-03-07 10:21:19-05

(WXYZ) — When drugmaker Eli Lilly announced it was slashing the cost of insulin and capping out-of-pocket costs to just $35 a month, it was major news.

But, Eli Lilly only has 23% of the insulin market and that means millions of Americans saw those gaudy headlines and were left asking, "what about me?”

Nicole Gambino is one of the more than 37 million Americans with diabetes. She was diagnosed with type one diabetes in middle school.

"I had blood sugars way over 1000, and I almost passed away from that at 12 years old," she said.

For 31 years insulin has been keeping Nicole alive. But, before getting health insurance, she recalls rationing insulin in college when times were lean.

"I remember being in the hospital and the nurses saying, you know, they feel bad for what happened and that I wasn't the only person that was in that situation," she said.

You might think Eli Lilly’s move to cut prices by 70% and cap out-of-pocket insulin costs at $35 a month would be welcome, but it's not good news for everyone.

"I do not take the Eli or whatever the Lilly insulin," Gambino said.

She's not alone. Eli Lilly has less than half the global market share of fellow pharma giant Novo Nordisk, so millions of Americans are missing out on the price cut.

"When you look below the headlines, it's not all that impressive what Eli Lilly is doing," Michael Greiner, an assistant professor of management at Oakland University, said.

He said Eli Lilly is cutting prices on older legacy drugs, not newer more expensive and more profitable medications.

"This comes after a decade in which they've raised prices, I believe, by about 1,000% for insulin. So this is not some act of generosity," he said.

He calls the change greenwashing. That's when a company tries to make up for past problems by doing good today.

Greiner says the likely spark is political pressure in Washington and California's plans to manufacture its own insulin.

"I think a big part of what we're seeing here is an effort by the company to try to essentially get a hold of what's a growing crisis for them," he said.

Dr. Brandon Karmo says whatever the reason, the Eli Lilly price cut will increase access to insulin and he hopes other drug makers will follow suit. He says he is more likely to prescribe insulin by Eli Lilly when the price is a factor.

"Because we know uncontrolled diabetes is a significantly higher risk for stroke, for heart attack, for vision loss, for kidney failure," Karmo said.

Gambino says all insulin should be low-cost or no-cost. She's frustrated that a life-saving medicine remains out of reach for millions of Americans.

"I's just not fair to people like us. And I feel that everybody deserves a right to live," she said.

Gambino also says the same public health push to make the opioid reversal agent Narcan free should be working to make medications like insulin free. Both medications are documented life savings.

If you are struggling to pay for your insulin, talk to your doctor about switching over to Eli Lilly’s non-branded insulin.

Not all insulins are the same and it’s important to work with your doctor to safely switch over to the right product to lower your cost and keep you healthy.