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Insulin Is A Major Focus In The Debate Over Rising Prescription Drug Prices


The pressure to lower drug prices now focuses on insulin. Lawmakers in the House and Senate want companies to cut prices for insulin, which is essential for many people with diabetes. The price is 10 times higher today than it was a couple of decades ago. There is one company lowering costs, as we hear from NPR's Alison Kodjak.

ALISON KODJAK, BYLINE: Express Scripts manages prescription drug insurance for more than 80 million people. It says it's offering a plan so the diabetes patients it covers will pay only $25 a month for their medicine. Dr. Steve Miller is the chief clinical officer for the health insurance company Cigna, which owns Express Scripts.

STEVE MILLER: What we're hoping is that we're going to see more diabetics taking their insulin, less complications for those patients and hopefully lower health care costs.

KODJAK: He says the company, which covers 1.4 million people who take insulin, hopes the lower prices will mean patients will be more likely to take insulin according to their doctor's orders. Under the plan, even people who haven't met their deductible or who usually pay a percentage of the drug's retail price will not pay more than $25 a month. Express Scripts announced the new plan just a day after members of Congress held a hearing on the high cost of insulin. Gail DeVore, a patient advocate who has been dependent on insulin for 47 years, testified at the House hearing yesterday.


GAIL DEVORE: Every day I get emails from people asking, how do I afford insulin? Every day. And every day I have to help them find a way to find insulin.

KODJAK: She says she has a good job and good insurance but still has forgone car repairs and doesn't take vacations because she spends so much on her own medication. A recent study by researchers at Yale found that about a quarter of people with diabetes skipped doses or use less than prescribed to save money. Kasia Lipska is a research professor at Yale's medical school. She told the lawmakers that drug companies are using insulin to boost profits, not come up with better drugs.


KASIA LIPSKA: I'll just go back to this vial of insulin. This is the same stuff - right? - this is the same insulin that's been around since 1996. Nothing has changed except the price.

KODJAK: Express Scripts says the $25 copay plan won't apply to patients who have government-sponsored insurance like Medicare or Medicaid. It'll be available to consumers whose insurance companies opt in, and it covers insulin made by Eli Lilly and Novo Nordisk, two of the biggest insulin makers in the world. Alison Kodjak, NPR News.


INSKEEP: We should note both Eli Lilly and Novo Nordisk have been NPR financial supporters in the past. Insulin made by the pharmaceutical company Sanofi will also be covered under this plan. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Alison Fitzgerald Kodjak is a health policy correspondent on NPR's Science Desk.