The outrage actually got a response: this grudging admission from Eli Lilly CEO David Ricks that all those furious people have a point. “It probably highlights that we have more work to do to bring down the cost of insulin for more people,” Ricks said. Yes, it does do that.
But Ricks didn’t entirely get the point, blaming “federal rules” for unaffordable insulin even for people who have health insurance. “Those are the cases that produce the outrage, and understandably,” Ricks said. “We want to do our part and work with payers in the system to provide copay assistance. We’re open to feedback [on improving communications],” he said. “We’ve done tons of things, but it obviously hasn’t penetrated the clutter. We’re obviously not the only insulin company. But the tropes go on.”
It’s not a communications problem. It’s a greed problem, and it is a uniquely American problem. A 2018 study from BMJ Global Health estimates the cost to produce a vial of insulin from between $2 for regular human insulin to less than $7 for newer analogs, like the Lispro analog Eli Lily produces. The list price for that analog is $274.70 per 10 mL vial. Eli Lilly offers a generic version at $82.41 per vial. That’s what any objective observer would call price gouging.
The RAND Corporation 2018 study demonstrated that the cost of insulin to diabetics in the U.S. is generally five to 10 times higher than in the other OECD countries (Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development). Where the 2018 average price per vial was less than $10 for other OECD patients, it was just under $100 for U.S. patients. That’s before insurance co-pays, rebates, and discounts are applied, which can bring the out-of-pocket cost for a U.S. patient down to just four times what another OECD national would pay.
Again, that’s not a communication problem. That’s a price gouging problem, and yes, federal regulation plays a role and has for decades. Federal laws and regulations have allowed Big Pharma to set the terms. Corporate greed took care of the rest. Ricks isn’t going to acknowledge that, but at least he had to feel some heat for it.
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