Note: This blog post was originally published in the Idaho Capital Sun on November 23, 2023 by Staci Golar and Larry Price under the title: “We don’t need false promises from Pharma during Diabetes Awareness Month. We need reform.”
Only eight days of National Diabetes Awareness Month had passed this November when pharmaceutical company Novo Nordisk announced it would be pulling Levemir, a long-acting insulin that millions of insulin-dependent diabetic patients depend on, from the U.S. market.
In March, Novo Nordisk had announced it would be lowering the price of Levemir by 65%. This, along with the promise of lowering the prices of a few other of their insulins, was met with fanfare and sweeping media coverage.
Since Novo Nordisk is otherwise known for increasing insulin prices in lockstep with Eli Lilly and Sanofi by some 1,000% over the last 20 years (together the three companies hold 90% of the U.S. insulin market), it’s no wonder that this seemingly “we’ll do the right thing for once” message made so many headlines. The coverage was undoubtedly bolstered by the type of public relations that only companies making $21 billion in annual profit, like Novo Nordisk did in 2022, can afford to fund, as well.
The catch with the promised price cut for Levemir is that it was to take effect on Jan. 1, 2024. Why would Novo Nordisk make that promise, if they knew they’d be phasing the drug out of the market?
The message seems pretty clear. If you pressure us to lower prices, we’ll make a cursory effort to do so for good optics, but continue to prioritize massive profits and put those who depend on insulin to survive at risk when the public stops paying attention.
We suspect that patients like us will be encouraged to start using another long-acting insulin that Novo Nordisk currently offers in the U.S. market as a result of discontinuing Levemir. Called Tresiba, it comes with – surprise! – no promised price discount, and was more costly than Levemir to begin with. Levemir could have been a lower cost alternative if Novo Nordisk fulfilled its promise to cut it from $308 to $108 per vial. Instead, their alternative, Tresiba, costs about $339.
The fight for affordable insulin has never been, and never will be solved by promises from pharmaceutical companies. For decades, they’ve shown insulin-dependent diabetics exactly who they are, knowing that patients have no choice but to purchase what they offer – if they can afford it. Our research shows that one out of every four insulin-dependent patients in the U.S. is already rationing their insulin, leading to long-term complications and oftentimes, death.
We don’t need more false promises or public relations talking points. We need affordable and accessible insulin that comes as a result of price regulation, public production and patent reform. We need to put people over profits.
Staci Golar is an arts, nonprofit, and marketing and communications consultant who serves as the Policy Lead of the Idaho #insulin4all Chapter of T1International.
Larry Price is an engineer and the Leader of the Idaho #insulin4all Chapter of T1International, a global nonprofit organization that works toward adequate access to insulin, diabetes supplies, medical care, and education for all people living with type 1 diabetes.