Here is my response to the Marketwatch article “Eli Lilly’s revenue boosted by jacking up cost of insulin for diabetics” written by Caitlin Huston, who herself has type 1 diabetes and uses Humalog.
I have been to Lilly headquarters a couple of times and have gotten to know some of the staff who work on their diabetes team. During my most recent visit I toured the facility that produces insulin, a much more complex process than one would think. On the bus ride back to their campus I was sitting with an executive and asked her what she thinks when people say that diabetes is a business and that companies like Lilly have no interest in finding a cure. This executive told me (and I’m paraphrasing here) that they do want to find a cure, that they would make money from a cure, and that they could convert all their production lines to another drug treating a different disease.
I know quite a few people who work for pharma and they genuinely care about people with diabetes.
Lilly helped bring mass produced insulin to people with diabetes after it’s discovery by Banting and Best. It’s a great story and if you ever get the chance, the museum at Lilly headquarters is quite fascinating.
Lilly has also partnered with Disney to create the ESPN and Mickey Mouse themed diabetes books for children and tweens.
I know that the people I have met at Lilly really do care. That’s why I was saddened to read an article this past week focused on the pricing of insulin made by Lilly.
Here are a few snippets from the Marketwatch article:
The company prices its drugs “based on the value” they bring “to patients, providers, payers, and society,” an Eli Lilly spokesperson told MarketWatch in emailed comments.
“This value-based approach considers cost savings that our medicine delivers compared to less effective or less safe treatment alternatives that might be available, as well as no treatment,” the spokesperson said.
According to GoodRX, which compiles data from pharmacies and drug manufacturers, Humalog is the second-most popular insulin choice with a current maximum price of $472, making it the most expensive short-acting insulin on GoodRX’s list.
So basically, Lilly’s earnings increased not so much because of volume in sales of diabetes drugs such as Humalog, but because they raised prices. They raised prices because of the “value” of insulin to people with type 1 diabetes.
You know. Because people with type 1 diabetes MUST TAKE INSULIN OR THEY WILL DIE.
I fully understand that pharma in America is a for-profit business. Perhaps if it wasn’t then we wouldn’t be raked over the coals to pay for the supplies and medications that our children with diabetes need just to live another day. But I personally think that “value” based pricing shouldn’t be used on life-sustaining drugs but should be used on drugs that are optional. (Cough…erectile dysfunction…cough.)
Don’t get me started on the millions and millions of dollars spent by pharma advertising to consumers, a practice not allowed in many countries, countries who tend to have lower drug prices. (Superbowl drinking games should be doing a shot every time there is an erectile dysfunction ad!)
Pharma has us over a barrel because we either buy insulin and supplies or our children die.
If you are a user of Humalog, either because that’s the insulin that works best for you or because that’s the preferred brand for your insurance company, I urge you to contact Lilly diabetes and tell them that insulin is not a luxury and that they shouldn’t raise prices just because they can.
We are lucky to live in a country where we have access to insulin because in many parts of the world a diagnosis of diabetes is a death sentence. But increasing prices of insulin in the US put a great burden on many families caring for a child with diabetes.
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