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.
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.