Quest to Cut Prescription Drug Prices Puts Insulin in Spotlight

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Quest to Cut Prescription Drug Prices Puts Insulin in Spotlight
Credit: © Reuters.

By Liz Moyer -- Lawmakers are once again trying to get caps on prescription drug pricing across the finish line, and that puts insulin in the spotlight.

The market for insulin is small but about to get more competitive. Eli Lilly and Company (NYSE: LLY ), Novo Nordisk A/S (NYSE: NVO ) and Sanofi (EPA: SASY ) ADR (NASDAQ: SNY ) are the primary makers, but a generic version by Civica RX is aiming to be introduced in 2024, at a cost of about $30 a vial, which could upend the current dynamics.

UnitedHealth Group Incorporated's (NYSE: UNH ) Optum is working with Sanofi to offer low-cost insulin to the uninsured, including a 30-day supply for $35.

Monthly co-payments on insulin and other diabetes supplies are already capped in 20 states, at $35 or lower in nine of those states.

And California state is exploring how to make its own insulin – by contracting a private drug maker – and offering it for less to residents.

Eli Lilly reported revenue this week that dropped 4% in the second quarter, in part because of lower insulin prices. Shares of Lilly are up 8.9% this year, while Sanofi shares are up 10%, Novo Nordisk is down 8%, and UnitedHealth is up 5.9%.

Getting the price of insulin down has been a key objective for some lawmakers. More than 8 million Americans use insulin to help manage their diabetes, but the costs have soared in the last 20 years, up 40% from 2007 to 2020, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation. 

The Senate's new budget offering a package of climate, healthcare and tax proposals aims at putting a cap on out-of-pocket drug costs and allowing Medicare to directly negotiate prescription prices, including for insulin.

“We believe strongly that prescription drug reforms in the Inflation Reduction Act should specifically address the rising cost of insulin,” said Lisa Murdock, the chief advocacy officer for the American Diabetes Association, in a statement last week. 

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