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Everything You Need to Know About the Cost of Insulin — Plus the Recent Cost Caps

Managing T2D

June 06, 2023

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Photography by Caíque de Abreu/Getty Images

Photography by Caíque de Abreu/Getty Images

by Hailey Hudson


Medically Reviewed by:

Philip Ngo, PharmD


by Hailey Hudson


Medically Reviewed by:

Philip Ngo, PharmD


Some of the biggest insulin makers in the U.S. have cut the costs of insulin. Here’s everything you need to know about these changes and when they’ll go into effect.

In March 2023, the biggest insulin makers in the United States announced price slashes that will soon cut the cost of insulin by over 70%.

Before these recent insulin cost caps, a single vial of insulin could cost up to $300. When people with diabetes can’t afford all of the insulin they need, they might try to ration their intake. This can lead to a life-threatening condition known as diabetic ketoacidosis.

Now, however, insulin medications such as Humalog will be more accessible, dropping from $274.70 per vial to just $66.40 per vial.

Read on to learn more details about these price cuts and what they mean for people with type 2 diabetes.

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Why is insulin so expensive?

Insulin, a hormone that’s produced by your pancreas and helps convert sugar into energy, has been steadily rising in cost for many years.

The average retail price for insulin went up 11% annually from 2001–2018, with the typical yearly cost nearing $6,000 for people with diabetes.

Generic versions of insulin are cheaper, but can still easily cost hundreds of dollars per carton of pens or per vial.

In 2020, Medicare recipients paid a total of $1 billion out of pocket for insulin — over 4 times what they paid just 13 years prior. Yet despite these high costs, insulin doesn’t actually cost much to produce: Analog insulin requires around $2–$4 per vial to make.

One reason insulin is expensive is because of something called evergreening. This is a process where drug companies make small improvements to their products to extend the patents, which results in less generic drugs being developed — allowing the original companies to charge whatever they want.

Limited competition is also a factor. Manufacturers Eli Lilly, Novo Nordisk, and Sanofi primarily control the insulin market in the United States. An additional investigation by the Senate Finance Committee in 2021 indicated that manufacturers were being paid rebates by insurers and pharmacy managers.

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How high insulin costs affect people with type 2 diabetes

High insulin costs place a financial burden on people with diabetes. In one study, researchers found that in 2021, 1 in 5 U.S. adults with diabetes (16.5%) either skipped doses, delayed doses, or used less insulin than they needed to save money.

This results in negative health outcomes that can get serious quickly — and which also increase medical costs even further.

If you live with type 2 diabetes, you may or may not need to take insulin. For many people with type 2 diabetes, though, insulin needs can increase over time as your body becomes less responsive to medication or as your pancreas produces less insulin.

People with type 2 diabetes who do need insulin can actually sometimes require more insulin than people with type 1 diabetes who take, on average, 1–3 vials per month.

With these kinds of numbers, it’s clear that lowering the cost of insulin can benefit people with diabetes by making insulin more accessible and affordable, leading to easier diabetes management and improved health outcomes for all.

What to know about the insulin cost caps

Some of the biggest market players have recently lowered (or plan to lower) the cost of insulin:

  • Eli Lilly will slash U.S. prices by up to 70%.
  • Novo Nordisk will slash U.S. prices by up to 75%.
  • Sanofi will slash prices by 70% and more.

Sanofi also plans to introduce a price cap, where no one will pay over $35 for a monthlong supply of Lantus. And the 2022 Inflation Reduction Act similarly capped insulin costs at $35 per month for Medicare beneficiaries, with U.S. President Biden asking Congress to cover younger Americans with private health insurance, too.

Another plan being considered is the Affordable Insulin Now Act, which was introduced in March 2023. This would require insurance plans to cover at least one of each type of insulin for a max of $35 per month and reimburse entities for covering costs exceeding $35 for providing 30 days of insulin to those without insurance.

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When will these changes go into effect?

Here are the details of the major insulin price costs and caps that have been announced, including when they will go into effect:

  • Eli Lilly will lower the price of Humalog from $274.70 per vial to $66.40, putting its price cuts into action during the final 3 months of 2023.
  • Novo Nordisk will lower the price of NovoLog from $289.36 per vial to $72.34 per vial, starting January 1, 2024.
  • Sanofi will lower the price of Lantus by 78% and short-acting Apidra by 70%, beginning January 1, 2024. This will take Lantus from $292 per vial to $64 per vial. Additionally, you won’t pay over $35 for a month’s supply of Lantus.

Additional financial assistance

The prices listed above do not include any type of financial assistance. But there are still additional ways you can save on insulin for type 2 diabetes.

Patient assistance programs

Each insulin manufacturer has their own assistance program:

You’ll need to meet certain requirements to be eligible for these programs. Depending on your income and insurance coverage, you may be able to receive free or discounted insulin.

Discount cards

Discount cards are available regardless of your income, and can reduce your out-of-pocket costs for insulin. Each insulin manufacturer offers discount cards that can lower your copayment costs. Depending on the specific insulin prescribed by your doctor, this can lower your costs significantly.

Ask for generic insulin or other alternatives

If you’re struggling with the cost of your insulin, talk with your doctor or pharmacist. Often, they may suggest you take a generic brand, be able to provide you with samples, or know of a less expensive alternative, like a biosimilar.

Regular or neutral protamine hagedorn (NPH) insulin also tends to be less expensive, but results aren’t as consistent, so you’d need to weight the risks vs benefits. And depending on your insurance plan, insulin vials may be less expensive than pens.

Your doctor or pharmacist can point you in the right direction for savings programs based on your insurance.

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The bottom line

Insulin is a necessity for many people with both type 1 and type 2 diabetes, and the high costs of insulin in the past have limited many people from getting the medications they need.

The lower costs for insulin going into effect later this year are a step in the right direction for more accessible and affordable insulin for people with type 2 diabetes and everyone else who needs it.

Medically reviewed on June 06, 2023

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About the author

Hailey Hudson

Hailey Hudson is a freelance writer and content marketer based out of Atlanta, Georgia, who writes primarily in the medical/healthcare, marketing, education, and pet industries. She lives with multiple chronic illnesses that significantly affect her life every day. As her health allows, Hailey enjoys reading, tap dancing, and writing letters to pen pals. You can follow her on LinkedIn.

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