Eli Lilly is cutting insulin prices by 70% and capping customers’ costs. But for some the changes come too late.

As insulin makers face increased pressure over the cost of insulin, Eli Lilly announced Wednesday that it plans to cut prices on its most commonly prescribed insulin products by up to 70% and cap customers’ out-of-pocket costs at $35 a month for those with commercial insurance who use its insulin. 

But for some, the changes come too late. Nicole Smith-Holt said the price of insulin directly resulted in the loss of her son, Alec Smith, who died in 2017 after rationing his insulin.

“I think if the price of insulin in 2017 had been $35, Alex would still be alive today,” she told CBS News. 

Nearly 8.5 million diabetic Americans rely on insulin to control their blood sugar levels. Nearly all the supply comes from three companies, and the average cost of the drug has more than tripled in this century. A 2021 study said the high cost has forced more than a million Americans to ration their doses, which can be deadly.

Smith was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes as he was getting ready to turn 24, then aged out of his mother’s insurance plan at 26. At the time, he didn’t have health benefits through his job as a restaurant manager, according to Smith-Holt.

She said that when her son was under her insurance, the insulin was expensive but affordable. When he wasn’t, he was asked to pay $1,300 a month for insulin, which resulted in him rationing the insulin he had left. 

“He lasted about four and a half days doing that” before his body was found, Smith-Holt said. 

Eli Lilly’s Humalog, the prescribed insulin product Smith was taking, was $21 a vial when it hit the market in 1996. It has since jumped to $274.70, and will be cut to $66.40 when the new price changes go into effect.

Shortly after Smith’s death, Smith-Holt began advocating on behalf of families who have lost loved ones over the cost of insulin. 

She also pushed lawmakers in Minnesota in 2020 to sign the Alec Smith Insulin Affordability Act, which allows qualifying diabetics with less than seven days’ worth of insulin left to pay $35 to get a one-time, 30-day supply. 

Smith-Holt calls the cost-cutting measures a victory of advocacy and a “step in the right direction.” But she is skeptical of the news and believes there needs to be a permanent solution in the form of a federal bill to cap insulin prices for all. 

“I worry … once the attention is off of insulin and the price of insulin that we’re going to see the prices go right back to where they were,” Smith-Holt said.  

Eli Lilly CEO David Ricks said the company hasn’t “rolled out a guarantee” that prices won’t rise again in the future. 

“But what I’ll say is: over the last five years, we’ve frozen these prices and cut them,” he said. “This is a dramatic cut, but the trend is definitely down, except for our newest products.”

“We’re researching new insulins and many people with diabetes would say they need better ones,” he said. 

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