Diabetes affects more than 29.1 million Americans nationwide, but only three companies make insulin worldwide. Steep price hikes in recent decades have prompted accusations of price gouging. According to Dr. Mayer Davidson, a professor of medicine at the Charles R. Drew University of Medicine and Science in Los Angeles who has monitored insulin costs, the price of insulin now “borders on the unbelievable.” Dr. Davidson noted that in 2001, the wholesale price of a monthly supply of highly concentrated insulin was $45. That same amount now costs $1,447. These observations mirror the results of a study conducted by the Journal of the American Medical Association, which found that “the mean price of insulin increased from $4.34/mL in 2002 to $12.92/mL in 2013—a 200% increase.”
The three companies that make insulin––Eli Lilly, Novo Nordisk, and Sanofi––claim they do not completely control costs. But all of these companies, says Merith Basey, who is the executive director for Universities Allied for Essential Medicines, have hiked prices “for decades.” All three, Basey said, benefit from evergreening, the practice of slightly modifying drugs to help maintain patients’ business. Evergreening also limits the competitive power of generic alternatives. Similarly, Kasia Lipska, an endocrinologist at the Yale School of Medicine, writes that between 2010 and 2015, “the price of Lantus (made by Sanofi) went up by 168 percent; the price of Levemir (made by Novo Nordisk) rose by 169 percent; and the price of Humulin R U-500 (made by Eli Lilly) soared by 325 percent.”
The skyrocketing price of insulin has also compelled a Montana senator to reflect on the impact these hikes have on consumers. “This is price gouging, plain and simple,” US Senator Jon Tester (D-Montana) said. “Just last week I was talking to my childhood best friend. He was diagnosed with diabetes in the 70s. He paid $2 for a drug that now costs him $175. That’s a little higher than the rate of inflation.” Peter Maybarduk, who serves as the director of Access to Medicines for Public Citizen, agrees. He called the price hikes “a longstanding scandal” and called for action “to make medical technologies affordable to all.” Congress, Maybarduk says, “can enact legislation against these sorts of price spikes. It is not complicated. The challenge is in standing up to the lobbying power of the pharmaceutical corporations.”
The companies also appear to increase their prices simultaneously according to prices gathered by Truven Health Analytics which compare Eli Lilly and Co.’s Humalog and Novo Nordisk’s Novolog, two short-acting insulins.
All three companies lack generic competition. They also pointed to discounts they provide and alleged that the problem is the fault of health insurers. Ken Inchausti, a spokesman for Novo Nordisk, toldBusiness Insider that the company is aware “that many Americans with diabetes struggle to pay for their healthcare and, in some cases, this includes paying for medicines produced by us,” but suggested