$35 Insulin on Medicare Pilot: Is This the Beginning of Affordable Insulin for All?

On Tuesday, President Trump held a press conference announcing a new pilot program for seniors on Medicare that would cap the monthly co-payments of insulin to $35. The announcement was attended by senior executives of two main insulin manufacturers, Eli Lilly and Novo Nordisk, and staff from the American Diabetes Association, as well as the Surgeon General, Jerome Adams.

In typical Trump style, midway through his announcement, he proclaimed, “I don’t use insulin. Should I be? Huh? I never thought about it, but I know a lot of people are very badly affected.” While this comment has created a wave of groans and eye-rolls throughout the diabetes online community, the core of his message is more important: seniors in America will now be more able to comfortably afford their insulin.

For everyone on earth, insulin is a necessary hormone to live. People without diabetes produce insulin endogenously, whereas people with diabetes must take insulin exogenously. Without adequate access to affordable insulin, people with diabetes face serious complications, such as kidney failure, blindness, amputations, and premature death. Unfortunately, the rising costs of insulin over the past few decades have become a major barrier to appropriate management of diabetes. American seniors are some of the hardest hit by the rising costs, who are partially-retired or out of the workforce completely, often trying to survive on smaller, fixed-incomes.

Trump remarked, “Today I’m proud to announce that we have reached a breakthrough agreement to dramatically slash the out-of-pocket cost of insulin. You know what’s happened to insulin over the years, right? Through the roof.”

The pilot program will take effect starting in 2021, and would be part of the enhanced Medicare Part D Senior Savings Model, to which over 1,750 standalone Medicare Part D and Medicare Advantage plans have applied to participate in, according to the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS).

s$35 Insulin on Medicare Pilot

Photo credit: Adobe Stock

This is a welcome respite from the high cost of insulin for American seniors on Medicare, who, despite being covered by health insurance, sometimes have to pay hundreds if not thousands of dollars for their monthly insulin prescriptions.

Despite the multitude of executive orders and policy decisions the Administration has made to chip away the Affordable Care Act, this enhancement of American’s largest healthcare social safety net was met with applause from seniors all across America, many of whom have cooled their support of the President since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic and our nation’s response to it. This is an excellent first step to ensuring that our aging Americans can afford the insulin they need to take care of themselves.

It is estimated that Medicare beneficiaries (generally Americans over the age of 65) who use insulin and join a plan participating in this pilot could see average savings of $446, or 66% for their insulin every year. The pilot is funded in part by insulin manufacturers who will pay $250 million in discounts over the five years of the pilot. There has been a positive response from Medicare Part D plans nationwide, and CMS predicts coverage in the pilot will be available in all 50 states, D.C., and Puerto Rico. Medicare beneficiaries will be able to enroll in a pilot-participating plan during traditional Medicare open enrollment, which is October 15th-December 7th, 2020, for Part D coverage that begins on January 1, 2021.

1 in 3 Medicare beneficiaries has diabetes, and over 3.3 million Medicare beneficiaries use one or more types of insulin, so this change isn’t insignificant. Out-of-pocket spending on insulin by seniors in Medicare Part D quadrupled between 2007 and 2016, from $236 million to $968 million, putting a harsh burden on millions.

Seema Verma, administrator of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services said, “We think that this creates a foundation and a platform to fix some of the problems that we have in the Part D plan (of Medicare). It’s time for that program to be updated.”

While this is a great first step, the pilot is only slated to last for five years, and it will only apply to the Medicare population- generally, people living with diabetes who are 65 and older. This begs the bigger question: how do we afford our insulin before we are eligible for Medicare? How can we ever hope to make it to that point, if insulin is unaffordable every step of the way? Men with type 1 diabetes have an average life expectancy of 66 years, compared with 77 years among men without it. Women with type 1 diabetes have an average life expectancy of 68 years, compared with 81 years for those without diabetes. Realistically, this may not even help people who have diabetes for very long.

We can only hope that this initiative creates enough momentum for the federal government to start capping the actual price of insulin, for the other 7 million Americans who rely on it every day to survive.

Source: diabetesdaily.com

Centralized Healthcare: Is It Best for the Patient?

There are many ways that a healthcare system can operate. The type of system that is best suited for a population may be dependent on many factors, including the population size, demographics, and various other economic, political and cultural considerations as well. 

Here we discuss some potential approaches to healthcare system organization and major considerations in health care reform. In large, because healthcare is a service that is paid for, the specific payment model represents a large consideration in the way the system works. Another big consideration is whether the services are paid for publicly or through private enterprises (like private insurance companies). Additional “middle-men”, such as pharmacy benefit managers (PBMs), health insurance companies, supply manufacturers and distributors, etc. can further complicate both price-setting, health care delivery, and patient outcomes. 

Many different countries have elected vastly different ways to govern health care. Some, like the UK, rely on a more centralized (public) model to deliver care and services, whereas others, like the US have historically relied more on privately funded providers and health services. In many cases, specialized entitlement programs (like Medicare and Medicaid) that are subsidized by the US Government can help specific patient populations gain access to the services they need at an affordable price. Also, although there are federal guidelines, in the US, states can also enact specific legislation to help people living in their state, by having specific state-run programs for the retired and low-income, as well as policy changes, like co-payment caps on state-regulated health plans for prescription medications like insulin. 

To Centralize… Or Not?

Some hail the benefits of a centralized, one-for-all, affordable, publicly-funded health care system (also referred to as a single payer system). After all, affordable and quality health services are a cornerstone of our well-being as a society. One of the biggest concerns brought about by critics is the lack of competition this could create, resulting in potentially fewer available resources (e.g., providers, supplies, services) and poorer quality of care as a result. In addition, this can also translate to longer wait times to receive health care services. 

As many individuals continue to struggle to afford health care in the US and other parts of the world, more people are pushing for a more comprehensive, centralized public health care system that could provide affordable services to more people. 

Current Payment Models Shape Outcomes

A large factor within a healthcare system is what the payment model to the providers looks like. An expert summary by the MMA Work Group to Advance Health Care Reform explains that there are several main models, each with its potential pros and cons. 

The fee-for-service payment system is one where reimbursement to the providers corresponds directly to the specific services rendered. This is the primary model that is used in healthcare models in the US. One major problem with this system is that getting reimbursement for each service or treatment can create a conflict of interest for providers, resulting in the potential to overtreat patients, losing focus on patient wellbeing, including preventative strategies. Also, this may limit comprehensive care for patients, as different providers may be less likely to coordinate care. On the other hand, this model can encourage productivity. It also offers a relatively direct way of reimbursement for various services. 

On the opposite side of the spectrum, capitation, refers to a carefully managed coordination of reimbursement for services. American College of Physicians explains:

Capitation is a fixed amount of money per patient per unit of time paid in advance to the physician for the delivery of health care services. The actual amount of money paid is determined by the ranges of services that are provided, the number of patients involved, and the period of time during which the services are provided. Capitation rates are developed using local costs and average utilization of services and therefore can vary from one region of the country to another. In many plans, a risk pool is established as a percentage of the capitation payment. Money in this risk pool is withheld from the physician until the end of the fiscal year. If the health plan does well financially, the money is paid to the physician; if the health plan does poorly, the money is kept to pay the deficit expenses.”

This type of model may allow for more flexibility with respect to care delivery, including potentially more innovative and effective services. It may also allow for more collaboration between providers and benefit patients due to potentially shifting more focus to eliciting overall well-being as a goal. On the other hand, setting up this type of system is a complicated and arduous process, and may also limit access for high-risk patients, and possibly reduce patient options, including the providers and services available to them. 

There are multiple variations of coordinated payments within this broad spectrum, and more proposals are continuously being drawn up by various organizations. Some examples include pay-for-coordination, pay for performance, bundled payments, and various forms of comprehensive care.

Importantly experts warn of the potential effects of these systems on patients, as illustrated below –

Opinions Vary

What kind of system will work best to serve the public in a timely manner without sacrificing quality, while also being affordable? The verdict is still out, and there will likely never be a consensus. Lessons learned from different countries, and on a more local level, will likely continue to shape the dialogue and direct (typically slow-moving) policy changes. 

Some feel strongly that universal healthcare is a right, and not a privilege. Others worry that such a system will decrease the quality of services, increase wait times, and thus negatively affect the patients and their health outcomes. Some believe there is no one-size-fits-all, and that specific systems must be driven from the ground up at a very local level. 

***

What do you think? How is healthcare organized where you live and do you think it is an effective model? How do you think policy has affected your diabetes-related care? How do we go about effecting significant policy changes, when and where they’re needed?  

Source: diabetesdaily.com

What to Do If You Need Insulin Right Now

This content originally appeared on Beyond Type 1. Republished with permission.

By Lala Jackson

What to Do If You Have No Insulin at All

Go to the emergency room. Under US law (The Emergency Medical Treatment and Active Labor Act), the emergency room cannot turn you down in a life-threatening emergency if you do not have insurance or the ability to pay.

If Emergency Room staff is telling you they cannot treat you, stay put. Be clear that you are in a life-threatening emergency because you have type 1 diabetes (T1D) but do not have insulin. Do not leave. Please note that urgent care centers are not required to abide by the same laws.

Once you are stabilized and before you leave the hospital, hospital staff is required to meet with you to make sure you understand that you are leaving the hospital of your own accord. At this time, let the hospital staff person know about any financial situation you are in. Some hospitals are aligned with charities that can help you pay. Other hospitals offer payment plans based on your situation. No matter your financial situation, know that your life is the most important thing.

What to Do If You Have Some Insulin, But Are About to Run Out

Utilize Kevin’s Law

If you have an existing prescription at your pharmacy, but have not been able to get ahold of your healthcare provider to renew the prescription, you may be able to take advantage of Kevin’s Law. Kevin’s Law was named for a man with T1D who passed away after not being able to access his insulin prescription over the New Year’s holiday. Under the law, pharmacists are able to provide an emergency refill of insulin in certain states, without the authorization of a physician to renew the prescription. Rules around the law vary from state to state and not all states have the law in place. Kevin’s Law only applies to those who have an existing prescription and, depending on where you live, your insurance may or may not cover the refill. Learn more about Kevin’s Law, including whether or not your state has it, here. Please note, your pharmacist may not know the law by name, or know that the law exists. If you are in a state with Kevin’s Law and working with a pharmacist who is unaware, stay put and ask to speak to someone else in the pharmacy.

Ask Your Physician for Samples

While this is not a long-term access option, your care provider may be able to provide you with a few vials/pens for free, and bringing your HCP into the access conversation means that they can help direct you to other options that might be available to you, like local community health centers with insulin available.

Utilize Patient Assistance Programs – Standard out of Pocket Cost $0

  • If you take Lilly insulin (Humalog, Basaglar) call the Lilly Diabetes Solutions Call Center Helpline at 1-833-808-1234
    for personalized assistance. You may be eligible for free insulin through LillyCares.
  • If you take Novo Nordisk insulin (Fiasp, NovoLog, NovoRapid, Levemir, Tresiba) and demonstrate immediate need or risk of rationing, you can receive a free, one-time, immediate supply of up to three vials or two packs of pens by calling 844-NOVO4ME (844-668-6463) or by visiting NovoCare.com
  • If you take Sanofi insulin (Admelog, Lantus, Toujeo): the Patient Connection Program provides Sanofi insulins to those who qualify, which is limited to those with no private insurance and who do not qualify for federal insurance programs and who are at or below 250% of the federal poverty level – with a few exceptions.

Utilize CoPay Cards – Standard out of Pocket Cost $35 – $99 per Month

Copay cards that reduce the out-of-pocket cost you pay at the pharmacy exist for most types of insulin. Some copay cards can be emailed to you within 24 hours. Currently, copay programs exist for:

  • Lilly, capping copays at $35 per month for those with no insurance or with commercial insurance
  • Novo Nordisk, capping copays at $99 for those with no insurance or with commercial insurance
  • Sanofi, capping copays at $99 for those without prescription medication insurance
  • Mannkind, capping copays at $15 for some of those with commercial insurance

Unfortunately, copay cards are typically not available for those insured through Medicaid or Medicare. Use the tool from the Partnership for Prescription Assistance to search in one place for discount programs and copay cards you qualify for here. Please be aware that you will need to search by brand name (i.e. Humalog, Novolog), not just “insulin.”

Get R & NPH Human Insulins – Standard out of Pocket Cost $25-$40 per Vial

R (Regular) and N (NPH) human insulins are available over-the-counter in 49 states and cost much less ($25-$40 per vial at Walmart) than analog insulins such Novolog, Humalog, Lantus, or Basaglar. They also work differently than analog insulins – they start working and peak at different times – but in an emergency situation can be a resource. Speak with the pharmacist or your healthcare provider if possible before changing your regimen and keep a very close eye on your blood sugar levels while using R & N insulin.

Research Available Biosimilar (Generic) Insulins

The biosimilar insulin market is changing rapidly as the FDA adopts new regulatory pathways to more efficiently approve interchangeable insulins that may be available for a lower price. Ask your healthcare provider for the most up-to-date options for you. A few options available are:

  • A generic version of Humalog — Insulin Lispro — is available at pharmacies in the U.S. for $137.35 per vial and $265.20 for a package of five KwikPens (50% the price of Humalog.) If you have a prescription for Humalog, you do not need an additional prescription for Lispro; your pharmacist will be able to substitute the cheaper option. Insulin Lispro is not currently covered by insurance.
  • Authorized generic versions of NovoLog and NovoLog Mix at 50% list price are stocked at the wholesaler level. People can order them at the pharmacy and they’ll be available for pick up in 1-3 business days

If you have enough insulin to last you a few days, but need to figure out where to get a more reliable, consistent supply, visit our Get Insulin page to find further resources.

Source: diabetesdaily.com

Patient Advocate Speaks Out on Eli Lilly’s Lowered Prices

By Madelyn Corwin

On April 7, 2020, Eli Lilly announced it would be selling its insulin to select patients for $35/month. This covers the uninsured and people with high deductibles. While myself and the entire diabetes community are happy lives will be saved through this news, we are not going to commend Eli Lilly for doing what they could have and should have done a decade ago.

We have already lost lives from rationing insulin, people have lost their vision, their limbs, their college savings accounts, their cars, their homes and so much more. People have literally chosen not to marry the love of their life just because they want to remain on Medicaid for their insulin. People have turned to the black market to buy insulin for years because of Eli Lilly, Novo Nordisk, and Sanofi’s price gouging. We can never get those lives back, those homes back, or people’s eyesight back. No amount of money or affordable insulin can fix the irreparable damage that has been done by the big 3 insulin manufacturers.

Madelyn Corwin, advocate for affordable insulin

This is not to say I’m mad about the $35 announcement. You have to understand where thousands of insulin4all advocates are coming from right now. Many advocates have made unthinkable sacrifices just to be able to pay that bill at the pharmacy counter so they can live to see tomorrow. People have skipped meals for days and worked out to the point of injuring themselves to bring their blood sugar down because they didn’t have enough money for more insulin. Many have rationed and been put in the hospital for DKA, only then to receive an even larger medical bill that they cannot pay, all at the hand of companies like Eli Lilly.

While the end goal is obviously and will always be affordable and accessible insulin for every person on this planet, we will not praise any manufacturer for doing the right thing after they’ve done the worst thing possible for years. It’s like when a country starts a senseless war and then ends it ten years later. Like, alright. Thanks, I guess. You profited, I guess. But the money paid to that senseless war by citizens is now gone and lives on both sides are also gone. So, I guess you did the right thing by ending the war, but why were we even there to begin with? And now, there is no way to repair the damage. So now, we will hold X country accountable forever for the lives and money lost, and this will be in the history books. This analogy works well with this $35 insulin issue.

There will always be an ulterior motive to these types of things, especially when Eli Lilly and other insulin manufacturers have pushed against patient advocates when trying to get emergency insulin access bills passed in their states (Alec Smith Emergency Insulin Act). These manufacturers send money to every politician they can possibly get to take their checks – yes, that includes the state level as well – so do your research. Here is a list of groups Eli Lilly has given money to. A big reason bills cannot get passed quickly or get passed at all is because there are many insulin price gouging lobbyists standing in the way. Why would Lilly suddenly lower the price when they spend millions lobbying our politicians? Why would they do this when they jump through patent loopholes (evergreening). Why would they be continuously paying off anyone trying to make a cheaper generic? Something does not add up.

cost of type 1 diabetes infographic

Infographic: T1DInternational.com

I may be pessimistic, but personally I do not and will never trust any insulin manufacturer after what they have done. I know a lot of people do not understand the capacity of the insulin4all movement, but it’s more than the t-shirts and social media posts. A great deal of patient advocates are working extremely hard every single day to get the insulin price-gouging story heard. There are hundreds of advocates interviewed by large news networks annually. These advocates have built personal relationships with their representatives and advocates that spend hours a day on social media trying to make a difference.

Insulin manufacturers have seen this; they’ve seen the uproar. They know we exist, and they know we are angry. They’ve known this for the last six or so years, yet they have done nothing. In fact, they mock us, and they pay off politicians to push their big pharma narrative. Common example: “Insulin has to be priced at $300 for research and development.” We’ve all heard it from some politician who happily accepts thousands of dollars from an insulin manufacturer.

Eli Lilly CEO David Ricks has even laughed at the question of affordable insulin and pushed the blame onto insurance companies and PBMs. While advocates are 100% aware that insurance companies and PBMs also play a large role in what the price of insulin is in the USA (you know, since they all profit off of our struggle at the pharmacy counter), he has twisted the narrative to make Lilly look like the good guy.

Lilly does this frequently; it’s probably in their training manuals by now. They gaslight patients and try to make it look like we’re the ones who don’t know what’s going on. Don’t fall for it. This is classic insulin manufacturer PR, they’ve been doing it for years. They love to push the blame elsewhere when in reality, those are the people they happily work with and write up their contracts with, all so they can make billion-dollar profits. In reality, they can just lower the price. They just proved that to us on April 7, 2020. Again, this should show you this company cannot be trusted and you should rely on your own personal, unbiased research.

On a recent conference call (March 16, 2020), Diabetes Connections with Stacey Simms got on with Andy Vickery at Eli Lilly. Andy is on the Lilly Diabetes Insulin Team (skip to 3:00 to hear the question and answer). Stacey asks Vickery, “In a time of really what is very much uncertainty, understanding that people with diabetes cannot live without insulin, why not be a hero in this space? And say right now that Lilly will cut the price of insulin to $25 or $35? Why not let people fill prescriptions for what they are written? For a price that would obviously help people around this country feel better about the one thing that they are… devastatingly worried about?”

Vickery responds, “I appreciate the frustration… If we cut that price, could that disrupt the supply to our other supply channel partners… We have contracts in place with them for a certain price. It would go beyond our ability to cut that price. We would have to renegotiate with them… We are constantly looking at the things we can be doing at this time…” He continues on to talk about their authorized generics.

Let’s take a look at how he also, like David Ricks, pushes blame onto PBMs and insurance companies while taking no responsibility at all for their role in all of this. He says he would have to renegotiate with PBMs and wholesalers. This is quite funny because that means if they lowered the price of insulin to $35, then they got everyone in their supply chain to agree on that. Why didn’t they get everyone to agree and play nice in 2012 when this became a devastating price for Americans to have to pay? Why didn’t they do this after we lost our first life to insulin rationing? Because they enjoyed the profit they were making and felt no guilt. There will always be an ulterior motive with these people.

There is also always a “fine print” to these copay cards. If you’ve ever used a patient assistance program, there’s a good chance you know what I’m talking about. Diabetes advocates are still doing research and looking for answers from Lilly reps regarding the terms and conditions. When does this end? How much can it be used? Is there a maximum amount, like with all of their other copay cards? As far as it looks right now, this program could be maxed out at a $7,500-annual limit (so, it’s good for less than a year of insulin for the average patient). Laura Marston, an incredible diabetes insulin4all advocate and lawyer has been compiling this information for us and will provide us with more info as she receives it. Again, I am looking for further confirmation for this and we have people searching high and low for the extra terms and conditions.

[UPDATE: Laura has done some more investigating on the situation, “It’s a limit on the difference between retail price ($325 times number of insulin vials) and $35 if you’re uninsured. If you’re insured, it’s the difference between your copay and $35.” We have still not seen official terms and conditions released by Eli Lilly.]

To close off this article, I decided to reach out to a few of my friends with diabetes who have struggled to get their insulin since their diagnosis and people who lost family members with diabetes to insulin rationing. If you are still struggling to understand why people will never commend insulin manufacturers for making bare minimum decisions, read through these:

“I believe this is once again another PR stunt. We have seen them do this type of thing several times over the past few years when pressure gets put upon them. If it was so easy for them to lower the price during this time of a pandemic, why did they not lower it years ago when people were crying out for help, people online begging for assistance, people like my son Alec who died because he could not afford his insulin. I want to know why now? Why after meeting with Mike Mason and sharing my story of how Alec died and many others stepping forward and sharing their stories. How long is this price going to be in effect for? How are they going to transition people from paying $35 now to $350 when this crisis improves?”

– Nicole Smith-Holt, who lost her son to insulin rationing in 2017.

 

“So I had to purchase out of pocket on multiple occasions. Usually, at fault of my insurance company (which would also be the fault of Lilly considering the contracts they write up and agree on with them), but again, we know it shouldn’t come to that. First time, I broke my last bottle. I was still 10 days from refill through insurance. I had to pay out of pocket, $280 for a vial. Second time, my insurance changed and told me I could only get Novolog covered, but I only had a prescription for Humalog. My doctor’s office wasn’t open and able to get me a prescription, so I had to pay the list price out of pocket again with the Humalog script I had on file (I would’ve died if I didn’t get it). Third, was because they forced an RX required on the box, I didn’t have a prescription, and I was running low on Humalog. I was out on tour for a whole month and running on my last pump fill up on my flight home. My flight was delayed overnight, and I was about to run out of insulin within the next 4-5 hours. With no prescription and no one up at 2 AM to get me one, I had to go to the ER and have them fill my pump, which took 3 hours of waiting and a bill of $550 for 100 units of insulin. Thanks, Lilly.”

– Ryan Ank

 

“I think it’s great that they’re doing this because people really need all the help they can get right now. Eli Lilly has been the leader of everything insulin-related. This means they gouged prices, and the other pharma companies followed. They lowered prices, albeit temporarily, so the others might follow. My anger stems from this, proving they could have lowered the prices at any time. So many people died from insulin rationing. Their deaths could have been prevented. So many lives cut short. Lilly’s responses are always R&D, but this $35 cap is proof of their lies and greed.”

– Nicole Hood, who lost her son to insulin rationing in 2018.

Source: diabetesdaily.com

World Diabetes Day 2019: The Most Important Issues We Face

Today is World Diabetes Day. What are the most important issues that you face as a person with diabetes? See what the online diabetes community had to say.
Source: diabetesdaily.com

The High Cost of Priming Insulin Pens

This content originally appeared on Diabetes Stories. Republished with permission.The cost of insulin has skyrocketed in the past several years. But there’s another costly wastage no one is talking about. And that’s the two units of insulin you shoot into the air to prime your insulin pen. More about this below. Regards the cost of insulin […]
Source: diabetesdaily.com

How and Why People With Diabetes Stockpile Supplies

For people with diabetes, an interruption to insulin supply is quickly life-threatening. It’s also seriously problematic to endure a disruption in other diabetes necessities like glucose test strips or CGM (continuous glucose monitor) sensors or insulin pump cartridges. Many people with diabetes strive to have a small stockpile of back-up supplies because what do we do […]
Source: diabetesdaily.com

Should People With Type 2 Diabetes Consider this Cheaper Insulin?

With analog insulin costing patients a great deal, should those with type 2 diabetes consider older but cheaper human insulins like R and NPH? A recent study looked at how blood sugar management was affected by this switch in older adults with type 2 diabetes. Analog insulins include brands such as Humalog, Novolog, and Apidra, […]
Source: diabetesdaily.com

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