The pharmaceutical companies have come under fire for such practices but are not prevented from doing so.
Ways to get affordable insulin
Other than lobbying for legislative checks and greater transparency for PBMs and pharmaceutical companies, where does this leave physicians who just want to make sure their patients can get the insulin they need?
There are a variety of programs to which physicians can direct patients in need of financial help. Eli Lilly, Sanofi, and Novo Nordisk all offer patient assistance programs, but these are generally reserved for people whose income is less than $36,000 per year and who do not have health insurance.
Blink Health and Inside Rx are programs that may offer discounts of up to 40 percent on insulin compared to pharmacy prices.
According to the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation, several nonprofit patient and insulin assistance programs are available to help with the costs of Type 1
diabetes medication. They include:
- Partnership for Prescription Assistance, which is sponsored by pharmaceutical companies, doctors, patient advocacy organizations, and civic groups. It helps low-income, uninsured patients get free or low-cost brand-name medications.
- NeedyMeds maintains a free, extensive database of patient assistance programs, state assistance, medication discount programs, and free or low-cost medical care. The site also includes information on programs geared to help consumers through the application process.
- RxAssist is an online database of pharmaceutical company programs that provide free or affordable medicines and co-pay assistance.
- RxHope is an online resource patients can search for an assistance program according to the type of medication. It also helps with the application process.
- RxOutreach is a nonprofit mail-order pharmacy for uninsured or underinsured people.
- The National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDIK) publishes a resource called “Financial Help for Diabetes Care,” containing information about resources that may help with medical expenses of a person with diabetes. You can view this publication online or order copies from the National Diabetes Information Clearinghouse at 1-800-860-8747.
Older formulations of insulin
The JDRF also recommends that physicians with low-income, uninsured patients in immediate need of insulin seek out an older formulation of insulin that may be sold over the counter at Walmart or Sam’s Club. This insulin is typically sold under the name
However, it does work differently than newer insulins, so physicians will need to be sure they help patients dose it correctly.
Oral medications and lifestyle changes for Type 2 diabetes
For patients with Type 2 diabetes who are taking insulin, lifestyle changes might be a way to reduce the amount of insulin they’re taking, or eliminate the need for it altogether, according to Megan Williams, MD, who is board certified in family and obesity medicine and owner of Elemental Weight Loss and Wellness Clinic in San Antonio, Texas.
“Physician to physician, don’t forget that there are lifestyle interventions that can be very powerful,” Williams says. “A major cost-reduction technique would be to try to move more, eat less, lower sugar and carb intake, and lose weight.”
Also, for Type 2 diabetes patients, she always looks for an oral insulin alternative that might be more affordable. “I’m a firm believer in evidence-based medicines over jumping straight to the most expensive thing, when the patient may not even be able to afford it,” she says.
Williams emphasizes the importance of physicians discussing cost with their patients before making any diabetes treatment plan, since it won’t do any good if the patient can’t afford it.
“I always make sure that patients that are having struggles [financially] contact the manufacturer directly because usually they’ll offer some type of discount,” she says.
Eli Lilly to sell cheaper insulin
In the wake of massive negative media attention to the plight of people who are unable to afford their lifesaving insulin, drug maker Eli Lilly has announced that they will begin to sell a cheaper insulin.
The new version will be an “authorized generic” of Humalog 100, according to the New York Times, and will sell for $137.35 per vial, which is a 50 percent discount from the list price.
The new drug, though identical to Humalog, will be called Insulin Lispro. Eli Lilly will continue to sell Humalog 100 at its regular price to insurers and employers.
Affordable insulin advocates hope this move pushes other drug companies to follow suit.