As the price of insulin has risen in the United States in recent years, pressure has been mounting on a variety of parties — including health insurers and insulin manufacturers — to take action to lower prices. Earlier this year, one company that manufactures insulin — Eli Lilly — announced that it was creating an “authorized generic” version of its own Humalog (insulin lispro) that would be listed at half the price of its current branded version.
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Now a second insulin maker has decided to adopt the same strategy. Novo Nordisk announced last week that it will create new generic versions of its NovoLog and NovoLog Mix insulins, to be available in 2020 at half the current price of branded versions. The company will also create a “cash card” program that lets people with diabetes buy up to three vials of insulin, or two packs on insulin pens, for $99 per month.
By creating new generic versions of its own insulins, Novo Nordisk — like Eli Lilly — will be offering a more affordable option for some people without disrupting its current arrangements with pharmacy benefit managers and health insurers, which cover the brand-name insulins. Many analysts have suggested that pharmacy benefit managers — which typically negotiate drug discounts on behalf of health insurers, and keep a portion of the discounts they obtain — have helped drive insulin prices higher by demanding large discounts, forcing insulin manufacturers to raise their list prices.
In its announcement, Novo Nordisk emphasized that its new offerings wouldn’t singlehandedly fix the insulin affordability crisis, but could help some people with diabetes. Currently, the company says, about 1 million people in the United States use NovoLog insulin. The new options will be available in both vials and pens, and will supplement, not replace, the brand-name offerings.
At the same time, the company says that structural reforms are needed to lower insulin prices in the long run. “While Novo Nordisk has acknowledged the role of list price, more needs to be done to improve how insurance benefits cover vital medicines, especially through high deductible health plans,” the company writes in its pricing announcement. “Those plans push list prices to patients to fulfill a deductible, which sometimes means paying thousands of dollars.”
Want to learn more about saving money on insulin? Read “Sanofi Offering Insulin at $99 Per Month,” “Half-Price Humalog Insulin Now Available,” “Insulin Prices: Four Ways to Pay Less” and “Cheaper Insulin: Older Insulins May Be Answer to High Prices.”
A freelance health writer and editor based in Wisconsin, Phillips has a degree in government from Harvard University. He writes on a variety of topics, but is especially interested in the intersection of health and public policy.