Following years of pressure, United States-based drug manufacturer Eli Lilly and Company announced today that it would lower the prices for its most commonly prescribed insulin products by 70 percent and automatically cap out-of-pocket costs for their insulin products at US$35 at participating retail pharmacies.
While a positive step forward, today’s announcement does not address the regulatory failures that allowed Eli Lilly to price its products high enough to undermine human rights.
Around 8 million people in the US use one or more forms of insulin to regulate blood sugar. Without it, they may face serious and even life-threatening complications. In the absence of adequate insurance, the most commonly prescribed forms of insulin can cost more than $300 for a single vial in the US, which can easily add up to more than $1,000 per month for many insulin users.
Last April, a Human Rights Watch report found that the US government’s failure to ensure equal and affordable access to insulin violates the rights of many people with diabetes. Unaffordable insulin contributes to dangerous and potentially lethal medicine rationing, forces diabetics to forgo other basic needs like food and rent, and hits socioeconomically marginalized groups hardest.
When adjusted for inflation, Eli Lilly increased their price for Humalog, one of the most frequently prescribed insulins in the US, by about 680 percent since it first began selling in the US in 1996. At about $275 per vial in 2018, Lilly’s price for Humalog was 294 percent higher in the US than its average price in 11 other high-income countries.
These changes, which come after years of work by patient-led advocacy organizations and informal aid networks trying to keep diabetics alive, will help make insulin more affordable for people who are uninsured and underinsured.
While an improvement, it does not fix the failed policies of the US government that have allowed insulin manufacturers to gouge people for a drug they cannot live without. To meet its human rights obligations, the US should ensure equal and affordable insulin access to everyone who needs it, regardless of insurance, wealth, or citizenship status.