The human cost of high insulin prices

  • The global insulin market is dominated by three companies: Eli Lilly, the French company Sanofi and the Danish firm Novo Nordisk.
  • In the past decade alone, U.S. insulin list prices have tripled, according to an analysis of data from IBM Watson Health
  • According to IBM Watson Health data, Sanofi’s popular insulin brand Lantus was $35 a vial when it was introduced in 2001; it’s now $270. Novo Nordisk’s Novolog was priced at $40 in 2001, and as of July 2018, it’s $289.
  • Stories of people rationing insulin and dying as a result continue to appear in the media.

The story in the Washington Post of a Type 1 diabetic who dies because he couldn’t afford insulin is sure to garner more anger from everyone from politicians to patients. Especially troubling are the drastic price increases in insulin over the last decade, while the Trump administration promotes the fact that the recent drug price increases were low due to their policies.

According to the article the victim’s sister stood in front of Eli Lilly’s HQ with a sign saying that high insulin prices are “killing people”. She met with an Eli Lilly executive who seemed sympathetic, but has anything changed?

The answer might be yes. Lilly Cares is a website set up for people who can’t afford their medications. The article does say that a patient saw their co-pay decline from 3 figures to $95 by asking for help but do enough patients know about this program? Why doesn’t Lilly use some of their DTC budget to promote Lilly Cares and make more efforts to reach people in hard economic areas who can’t afford insulin?

“Never get emotional about business” was a saying from the Godfather, but today the media is writing, and promoting, stories to get emotional because stories like that get people angry and are read by a larger audience. The Washington Post did talk a little about Lilly Cares patient assistance program, but it was only one paragraph in a long story that too many people will skim rather than read.

I worked at Lilly early in my marketing career. At the time it was a great company to work for with people who really cared about patients. Sure, we had the Zyprexa misstep, but the people responsible were fired and one went on to J&J where she quickly git in the middle of another marketing issue around one of their drugs.

Recently, Lilly had started offering early retirement to some employees but it looks like too many people took the package and now they are looking to fill more empty positions. They need to hire people who are willing to have the discussion about patient needs and how we ensure people know about Lilly Cares.

I can’t justify why the top three insulin makers raised the price of insulin so much except to fund expansions and acquisitions. More importantly, how does an employee deal with their conscience that people may be dying because they can’t afford insulin? I like to believe that the good people within Lilly are saying “we need to do something to ensure people don’t ration insulin and can get it at a price they can afford”. But then I’m a dreamer…