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Why Are Insulin Prices So High

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How Much Does A Bottle Of Insulin Cost With Insurance

Insulin Cost: Why So High?????

It is difficult to say how much a vial of insulin costs when paying through your health plan. Each insurance plan covers insulin products differently.

It is when you actually have health insurance coverage that getting the insulin for a decent price becomes a problem, says Dr. Carnathan. In those cases, the patients are sometimes forced to switch to a different and cheaper type of insulin called NPH or 70/30 among a few others. These insulins have been around for a long time and are affordable. The patient needs a primary care doctor or endocrinologist who is comfortable using these older insulins and adjusting them safely.

Each health plan has varying copays and deductibles, too. For example, for people with a high-deductible plan, the cash price for insulin is paid until you meet the deductible. Some copays can be as high as 50% of the cost of the medication.

It can also sometimes be difficult for people on Medicare to afford insulin. Many patients who are faced with the high cost of insulin find themselves caught in the Medicare donut hole, says Gail Trauco, RN, the principal CEO of The PharmaKon LLC.

Like uninsured customers, patient assistance programs might be of help to Medicare customers. However, these programs require an application, which can take 30 to 60 days for review and approval, and documentation with receipts to confirm your monthly cost-of-living expenses.

Manufacturers Have Upper Hand

Kesselheim and colleague Dr. Michael Fralick wrote that there are two main reasons why insulin is so expensive now. One is that U.S. laws let pharmaceutical manufacturers set their own prices and raise them without limit.

The second reason, the authors noted, is that there isn’t significant competition in the U.S. insulin market. Price competition typically comes from the introduction of a generic drug that directly competes with a branded product.

But the authors said that current insulin makers have blocked the entry to such products by getting new patents based on things such as a new delivery device.

Kesselheim also noted that “insulin is a slightly more complicated molecule,” which makes developing a generic version more challenging.

He said that the makers of insulin have begun selling “authorized generics” of their brand-name products. Eli Lilly and Co. is selling a generic version of their branded insulin Humalog for 50% less than the brand-name product, according to Greg Kueterman, a company spokesperson.

Kueterman added that Eli Lilly doesn’t currently have any patent-protected insulins. He said the company is also capping prices at the pharmacy for people with commercial health insurance, and increasing eligibility for free insulin for those with very low incomes.

Quinn Nystrom, 33, from Baxter, Minn., has Type 1 diabetes. Shes been working with local and federal elected officials to improve insulin access and affordability.

Transparency And Flow Of Dollars

A consistent observation made to the Working Group was the lack of transparency throughout the insulin supply chain. Many interviewed stakeholders recommended increased transparency from entities across the insulin supply chain. Manufacturers reported that without knowledge of the negotiations that take place between PBMs and health plans, they are at a disadvantage in determining pricing for their insulin products. Manufacturers state that the need to provide a higher rebate to achieve preferred formulary positioning impacts the list price of insulin. However, manufacturers do not know where the dollars from increased rebates flow.

Health plans, pharmacists, and people with diabetes also called for increased transparency, including shedding a light on how the list price is set by the manufacturer. Health plans stated that while there is no requirement to report factors that determine increasing list prices, private and public payers are paying for the majority of the costs as list prices continue to rise. Payers would like more transparency in pharmacy acquisition prices and want more information on the therapeutic benefits of more expensive analog insulins. Pharmacists, patients, and providers also would like formulary decisions to be more transparent.

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Switching To Newer Insulin For Type 2 Diabetes Comes At A Cost

Greene wondered why that was the case. Why was a medicine more than 90 years old so expensive? He started looking into the history of insulin, and has about his findings in this week’s issue of the New England Journal of Medicine.

The story of insulin, it turns out, starts back in the late 1800s. That’s when scientists discovered a link between diabetes and damaged cells in the pancreas cells that produce insulin.

In the early 1920s, researchers in Toronto extracted insulin from cattle pancreases and gave it to people who had diabetes, as part of a clinical trial. The first patient was a 14-year-old boy, who made a dramatic recovery. Most others recovered as well. Soon, insulin from pigs and cattle was being produced and sold on a massive scale around the world.

Acids, alcohol and pancreatic tissue were separated, bathed and mixed in this laboratory of a 1946 insulin factory in Bielefeld, Germany.hide caption

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Acids, alcohol and pancreatic tissue were separated, bathed and mixed in this laboratory of a 1946 insulin factory in Bielefeld, Germany.

But for some, the early forms of the medicine weren’t ideal. Many people required multiple injections every day, and some developed minor allergic reactions.

“All of these innovations helped to make insulin a little bit safer, a little bit more effective,” Greene says.

Greene says there’s no one reason that companies stopped producing the older animal versions, but they clearly felt it would not be profitable.

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The Cost of Insulin

Lawmakers proposing copay caps also have to contend with the health insurance lobby, which has testified against such bills and worked to weaken one that had already passed in Colorado. In May 2019, Colorado became the first state to cap insulin copays for diabetics with private insurance. The situation had become so dire that we needed to pass something right away that would have an immediate impact on the price of insulin, state Rep. Dylan Roberts, a Democrat and the bills author, said in an interview. The law was supposed to set a $100 copay limit on a diabetics entire monthly insulin prescription.

But after the bill was signed into law, the insurance industry convinced Colorado regulators that the cap should apply to each brand of insulin, even though some diabetics rely on multiple brands in a month. The Colorado Legislature hoped to close the loophole before COVID-19 cut the legislative session short. “I wish they would have let us know that they were going to lobby the Division of Insurance for a loophole, Roberts said.

Nine other states Illinois, Maine, New Hampshire, New Mexico, New York, Utah, Virginia, Washington and West Virginia got similar copay limits signed into law. In Utah, the copay cap that passed in April will also benefit the uninsured through a state-funded program that provides a 60 percent discount.

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Fact Check: Is Joe Biden Responsible For The Rising Cost Of Insulin

Out of roughly 330 million people living in the U.S., about 34 million are living with diabetes.

For individuals with type 1 diabetes, access to insulin is the difference between life and death.

Recently, many Americans have been expressing their outrage on social media at the rising cost of insulin and wonder who is to blame.

Background: Scope Of The Problem

Approximately 7.4 million Americans with diabetes use one or more formulations of insulin . People with diabetes using insulin come from varied economic, racial, and ethnic backgrounds. Almost 20% of African Americans with diabetes use insulin, either alone or with oral medications, as do 14% of Caucasians and 17% of Hispanics with diabetes . Of adults with diabetes earning below the poverty level, approximately 24% use insulin, either alone or with oral medications .

Currently, there are only three insulin manufacturers serving the U.S. market: Eli Lilly, Novo Nordisk, and Sanofi. Almost 100 years ago, the discovery of insulin, derived from animal sources, literally began to save human lives. The advent of genetic engineering brought human insulin formulations to patients with diabetes in the 1980s. Rapid-acting and long-acting human insulin analogs were introduced in the 1990s. The patents for many of the human insulin and human insulin analog formulations in current clinical use have expired.

Average Medicare out-of-pocket spending for insulin, per user, by product category, 20062013. Source: USC Schaeffer Center analysis of Medicare Part D claims data.

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The Problem With Copay Caps

Unlike Hodges, Oregon state Rep. Sheri Schouten, a Democrat, got buy-in from the drug industry when she wrote a bill to lower what diabetics would pay for insulin. Rather than put a cap on the price, her bill would have imposed a $75 limit on insurance copays. She expected it to pass before COVID-19 brought work in the Legislature to a halt.

If the pharmaceutical industry is going to come after you, nothing’s going to happen, she said in an interview. So thats the reason I went through the insurance route.

Some advocates say that copay caps dont address the root of the problem high insulin prices. Besides doing nothing for the uninsured, copay caps only help people with private insurance. People on federal health plans like Medicare wont benefit because states cant regulate prices set by federal plans.

Harry Rybolt is an example of a Type 1 diabetes patient who would be left out under a state copay cap. Rybolt, 68, a social worker in Indiana, expects that his insulin will cost him $350 a month under Medicare Part D. He started speaking out against high drug prices when his son Jeremy Crawford died at 39 from complications of the disease last year. The family realized he had likely been going without his normal insulin prescription while waiting for the health insurance at a new job to kick in.

All he had to do was call me, Rybolt said.

Variations Among Those With Private Health Insurance

Why Insulin Is So Expensive | So Expensive

There are substantial variations in the structure of private health insurance, which may have significant implications for out-of-pocket spending. Under many plans, drugs purchased before reaching a deductible must be paid at list price. Beyond this level, payments depend on plan design. According to the Kaiser Family Foundation Employer survey, 91 percent of covered workers in 2017 were in a plan with tiered cost-sharing for drugs. Depending on the tiering structure and drug tier, 21 percent to 81 percent of 2017 plans required a copayment for prescriptions , while 10 percent to 79 percent required coinsurance .16 High-deductible plans typically incorporate coinsurance above the deductible. As plans have moved to higher deductibles, there has been a trend toward coinsurance designs, which more closely tie out-of-pocket payments to list prices.

While the Medical Expenditure Panel Survey does not provide direct information on insurance design, we were able to use the patterns of out-of-pocket payments in this survey data to classify those with private insurance into copayment-only, coinsurance-only, and unclassified groups. Consistent with other studies,17 the fraction of privately insured people who used insulin covered by copayment-only plans dropped from 29 percent in 2014 to 24 percent in 2017, while the fraction in coinsurance-only plans rose from 11 percent in 2014 to about 16 percent in 2017.

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Insulin In America: A Right Or A Privilege

Even as a medical student, I was interested in the history of insulin. As an endocrine fellow, I read The Discovery of Insulin by Michael Bliss . It is a book anyone interested in diabetes should read, as life before insulin is difficult to appreciate by todays standard of care, at least in the United States. Amazing stories of what people did to obtain insulin are plentiful, perhaps none more dramatic than Eva Saxls story, with her husband making insulin in Shanghai, China, for the more than 200 Jews who escaped Nazi persecution during World War II .

But in the United States, access to insulin had never been a problem. As a medication required for survival by 10% of those with diabetes, it was always available, although for decades quite crude by todays standards. The insulin patent from the University of Toronto was sold for $1 with the understanding that cheap insulin would become available . Through the years, insulin remained affordable. Even with the introduction of human insulin in 1982 and then insulin analogs in 1996 , the increases in insulin pricing did not seem to be a concern. At least in the United States, the vast majority of patients requiring insulin had access to all of the insulin analogs as they were developed.

Role Of Rebates And Discounts In The Pricing Of Insulin

The widening gap between the net and list price of insulin in recent years appears to be the result of increasing rebates and discounts negotiated between stakeholders. Manufacturers negotiate with a PBM for discounts from the list price to have their medications placed on a lower cost-sharing tier and/or to avoid constraints on utilization on the PBMs client formulary. In this process, manufacturers agree to fees and price concessions, typically paid to the PBM after health plan enrollees receive the manufacturers medication. These retroactive discounts or rebates are in addition to the fees paid to PBMs by the payers to provide the pharmacy benefit management services. The rate of increase in these rebates has accelerated to approach approximately half of the list price of insulin . PBMs also negotiate with pharmacies to determine how much participating pharmacies will be paid for medications dispensed to enrollees in the PBM clients health plan.

Because PBMs design the formulary for their clients, some stakeholders believe PBMs have significant input into which medications are on the formulary and at which tier, setting the parameters for patient access to and cost-sharing for insulins. Nationally, PBMs administer the prescription medication benefit for more than 266 million Americans, and the three major PBMs manage about 70% of all prescription claims . Arguably, this gives PBMs considerable leverage in any rebate/discount negotiation with stakeholders.

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Insulin Prices Are Dramatically Higher In The United States Than In Other Countries

For Release

TuesdayOctober 6, 2020

Insulin prices are more than eight times higher in the United States than in 32 high-income comparison nations combined, according to a new RAND Corporation study.

The study compared how much different types of insulin sold in the United States would cost if bought at prices in other countries. The average price per unit across all types of insulin in the United States was $98.70. Other countries would have paid a fraction as much for the same insulins.

U.S. prices were higher than each of the 32 comparison countries individually, ranging from 3.8 times higher than those in Chile to 27.7 times those in Turkey. U.S. prices were 6.3 times higher than those in Canada, 5.9 times higher than those in Japan and 8.9 times higher than those in the United Kingdom.

The study used manufacturer prices for the analysis. The final, net prices paid for insulins are likely to be significantly lower than manufacturer prices in the United States because rebates and other discounts often drive down the price paid by individuals in the United States.

But even if such rebates and discounts drive down prices by as much as 50%, the prices paid by U.S. consumer are likely to be four times the average paid in other high-income nations, according to the study.

The study was sponsored by the Office of the Assistant Secretary for Planning and Evaluation in the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

Formulary Decisions And Incentives

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Based on the Working Groups review of the insulin supply chain, it is clear that the insulin manufacturers still control the list price of insulin, but a meaningful share of the negotiating power has shifted from manufacturers to the PBMs. PBMs attempt to keep medication costs down by moving market share between competing products, and their market power is directly related to their ability to provide exclusive formulary coverage for particular brands of medications.

The Working Group was informed that the PBMs generally pass a portion of the rebates received from manufacturers back to the employer or health plan and that in some cases, less than 10% of the rebate is retained by the PBM. These statements were not confirmed by the Working Group. In addition to negotiating rebates with manufacturers, PBMs charge employers, plans, and pharmacies administrative fees for a variety of services. Specifically, health plans and employers pay PBMs a fee for utilization management, such as prior authorization requests for plan enrollees. To ensure the PBM does not have a financial incentive tied to the number of medications requiring utilization management, some employers or plans outsource the processing of utilization management requests and approvals to another company.

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The Person With Commercial Insurance

A person with diabetes who has commercial insurance may pay less than the $480 list price, but the amount paid depends upon the persons insurance contract. If the person is required to pay an annual deductible that has not yet been reached , the person with diabetes will pay the full $480 list price for the insulin until the person spends enough to meet the deductible. Once the deductible is met, if the persons insurance contract specifies a fixed co-payment, he or she will pay a flat amount, for example, $50 per prescription, even if the person with diabetes uses multiple vials of the same insulin product per month. However, if the insurance plan requires coinsurance, the person with diabetes will pay a percentage, for example, 20% of the cost of each vial of insulin. Importantly, the coinsurance is based on the list price of the insulin, not the net cost after any rebates or discounts negotiated by the PBM. In this case, the out-of-pocket cost by the person with diabetes for the insulin is $96 per vial .

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