November brings open enrollment for many (some insurance plans use a calendar year which means Jan 1, 2021 which is less than 2 months away). For people with diabetes struggling to pay for runaway insulin costs (everyone with autoimmune T1D will die without it; Type 2 has a different etiology), its worth sharing that regardless of any deductible which must be satisfied, or whether you have no insurance coverage at all, there is a little-communicated way to get rapid-acting insulin analogs at prices which are about 75% off the bogus list price for this 100 year-old medicine which was discovered in 1921 (so price increases are assuredly not due to R&D; those costs were recouped many decades ago). I’ve successfully used this method until my deductible was satisfied and saved a fortune.
So, how does a person get insulin at 75% off the bogus cash list price?
You must follow a few steps. First is to visit (or download on your smartphone) coupon-generating apps offering discounts which are readily-available. Most notably GoodRx and RxSaver (there are a handful of others, such as AmericasPharmacy. and SingleCare which also offer discount coupons, but I’ve found them not-quite-as-generous, although they still work). Also, not every pharmacy carries the lower-cost products (CVS, for example, which makes billions on insulin rebates each year, refuses to even carry the less-costly products so take your business elsewhere), but Walgreens (and its recently-acquired Rite Aid business) do carry them. The pharmacist may need to order the less-costly products (which have their own, unique NDC number), but that usually only takes a few days.
Patients must also ask their doctor to prescribe you either U-100 Insulin Lispro (brand name Humalog) or U-100 Insulin Aspart (brand name Novolog). With a script written for a generic name for a certain insulin, it can be filled with the overpriced brand-name (once you’ve satisfied a deductible, if applicable, yout co-pays may be much cheaper), one of the growing number of biosimilars (Admelog is the first biosimilar of a rapid-acting analog now being sold by Sanofi), or relatively new “authorized generic” products introduced by Lilly and Novo Nordisk in early 2020. When the “authorized generics” were launched, they were hailed as being “half-priced” (ironically, slashing prices in half did not reduce the drug companies’ profits at all, so the logical question is where’s all that money going?). But now, discount coupons are enabling people to buy the less costly products for about 75% off the list prices which is phenomenal savings (truth be told, the savings are about what your insurance company is paying for insulin, but overcharging you when you buy it and then giving the money to your employers as “premium offsets”).
For U-100 Lilly Insulin Lispro (brand name Humalog), the coupon with the biggest discount appears to be GoodRx which offers a coupon to buy the product for $68.38/vial at Walgreens compared to the list price of $275.00/vial. Insulin pens are slightly more costly, but if you buy a 90-day supply, the price is slightly lower so keep these things in mind.
For U-100 Novo Nordisk Insulin Aspart (brand name Novolog), the coupon with the biggest discount appears to be RxSaver which offers a coupon to buy the product for $67.00/vial at Walgreens compared to $289.36/vial. Insulin pens are slightly more costly, but if you buy a 90-day supply, the price is slightly lower so keep these things in mind.
If you’re among the 55% of Americans with employer-provided healthcare insurance with a high-deductible, these products (with the coupons which enable you to get them for 75% off) could reduce the amount of cash you need to survive by a lot of money. Although thanks to a 2019 IRS decision more new insurance plans cover insulin as a “preventative treatment” eligible for pre-deductible coverage, the insurance companies said they would only apply to new policies sold, not existing policies. But as policy renewals come up, some patients may find that runaway insulin prices are no longer a crisis as they once were. Make no mistake, that’s because of a change in policy at the IRS which benefits companies like United Healthcare, Anthem, Aetna, Humana and others. Insurance plans are doing what benefits their shareholders, not patients. They did not have a change of heart on the subject, but dollars speak and U.S. taxpayers are nudging them to do it.