By now, you’ve probably heard of the rising cost of insulin. Between 2012 and 2016, the average cost of insulin doubled, according to the Health Care Cost Institute. And in 2014, the price of Lantus, an insulin made by Sanofi, rose 49 percent.
According to a 2017 study, diabetes is the most expensive disease in the US. Another study showed that from 2001 to 2015, the price of one type of insulin increased 585%.
National news outlets regularly publish articles and videos about the doubling and tripling of insulin costs.
Most recently, the Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations of the Committee on Energy and Commerce held a hearing on the rising cost of insulin in the US, in which one witness explained how the list price of an insulin increased by 51% in 3 years, while its net price decreased by 8% in that same time span; over the course of those 3 years, the cost to make the insulin went from $153 USD to $131 USD, while the purchase cost went from $350 USD to $600 USD.
Clearly, there is a problem.
Does Novo Nordisk Have a (Somewhat) Solution?
Recently, Novo Nordisk announced a price cap on their NovoLog and NovoLog Mix insulins for US consumers starting January 2020.
As part of their US insulin affordability offerings, they are launching a flat-rate program that provides 3000-3600 units of any combination of Novo Nordisk analog insulins in vials or pens available at $99 USD.
Novo Nordisk $99.00 Cash Card Program
The $99 Cash Card Program for analog insulins allows people with diabetes to purchase up to three vials (or two packs) of analog insulin or two packs of FlexPen/FlexTouch pens for $99. The program will be available to those commercially insured and uninsured.
According to Novo Nordisk, studies and clinical experience suggest that the 3000-3600 units is an adequate supply to cover the monthly needs of most people with diabetes.
NovoLog and NovoLog Mix Follow-On Brands
As part of their NovoLog and NovoLog Mix Follow-On Brands (also known as an authorized generic), the company will launch their generic version of NovoLog, which will be available for purchase in vial and pen forms at half of NovoLog’s list price.
The discounted prices for Insulin Aspart and Insulin Aspart Mix (generic forms or follow-on brands of NovoLog and NovoLog Mix) will be available for:
- Insulin Aspart 10mL vial/1000 Units: $144.68
- Insulin Aspart 5x3mL Penfill (box of 5 pens)/1500 Units: $268.73
- Insulin Aspart 5x3mL FlexPen (box of 5 pens)/1500 Units: $279.41
- Insulin Aspart 70/30 10mL vial/1000 Units: $150.06
- Insulin Aspart 70/30 5x3mL FlexPen (box of 5 pens)/1500 Units: $279.41
Follow-on brand versions of NovoLog and NovoLog Mix will be made available from the newly established Novo Nordisk US affiliate Novo Nordisk Pharma Inc. As an authorized generic, prescriptions for Insulins Aspart FOB and NovoLog should be interchangeable at the pharmacy counter.
This news comes shortly after Lilly announced its own authorized generic version of Humalog, called Insulin Lispro, which is available at 50% less than Humalog. Since its release in May, though, Insulin Lispro has been slow to gain traction. Sanofi also announced price cuts to its insulin in April 2019, available to some US consumers.
What Does This Mean
The rest of Novo Nordisk’s announcement touts their current affordability options running in the US. They also call for long-term reform from within:
“While we will continue to do what we can to help address affordability challenges in the short-term, changes within the system are required to make sustainable and meaningful affordability a reality. What a patient pays for medicine is influenced by insurance benefit design and pricing. 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. Those plans push list prices to patients to fulfill a deductible, which sometimes means paying thousands of dollars.”
While this statement points to a bigger, truer national problem, many are still asking valid questions.
Why not simply lower list price across the board for all three manufacturers? We know 1 in 4 people with diabetes ration their insulin because of cost, so why has it taken all 3 manufacturers so long to do anything about it?
Some are also pointing to Lilly's authorized generic, saying that many insurance plans don’t cover it, pharmacies don't seem to carry it, and no one seems to know about it. Who’s to say this new rollout from Novo will be any different?
Hopefully, Novo Nordisk will be more aggressive with their tactics for this program.
It’s a welcome step in the right direction. And we appreciate them for not only taking this stance but also encouraging further and deeper discussion system-wide.
Ultimately, an entire reconfiguration of the US healthcare system is required.