A cheaper version of the lifesaving diabetes medication just launched in the US

A new form of insulin just hit American markets.

It’s called Basaglar, and it is 15% less than the list price of Lantus and Toujeo, two long-acting insulins made by Sanofi Aventis, 21% less than the list price of Levemir, and 28% less than Tresiba, two long-acting insulins made by Novo Nordisk.

Basaglar was approved in December 2015, but had to wait a year before launching on Thursday.

A spokeswoman for Eli Lilly, the company that makes Basaglar and other insulins, told Business Insider that the list price for a pack of 5 pens is $316.85 — that’s before any discounts, or factoring in what insurance might cover.

It is part of a group of medications called “follow-on biologics” and together, they are expected to save the US billions of dollars over the next decade

Why there’s no generic form of insulin

For people living with Type 1 diabetes and some who live with Type 2, injections of insulin — a hormone that helps people absorb and process the sugar in food — are a necessary part of daily life. 

And insulin, in one form or another, has been around since the 1920s

But because it’s made of living cells, it’s what doctors call a biologic product, and it’s more complicated and difficult to manufacture than the medicines most often produced generically.

That’s why Basaglar isn’t considered a generic, it’s called a “follow-on biologic.” Others taking this approach have gotten approved as biosimilars, and like Basaglar have come in at a slight discount — roughly 15% — off the list price of the original drug.

The promise of the discount was enough to get CVS Health and other pharmacy benefits managers to carry the drug. CVS said in August that it would only cover Basaglar instead of Lantus.

Insulin price hikes in the spotlight

Discounts to the price of insulin could relieve the financial burden of diabetes on families. In September, Business Insider spoke with families on these plans, which require a large out of pocket outlay by the patient before insurance kicks one. They are particularly vulnerable to price hikes. One person said they were spending as much on supplies as their monthly mortgage payment.

Here’s a chart of Lantus and Levemir price increases up until September 2016. 

On Tuesday, Lilly came out with a discount of up to 40% for people with high-deductible insurance plans. The discounts come through an app called Blink Health, which lets users pre-pay for your prescriptions to lock in discounts. Basaglar is included in the program, and Lilly and its partner Boehringer Ingelheim also set up a patient assistance program, including a savings card to help eligible people pay as little as $5 for a month’s supply.

These savings card approaches have been dismissed as way for companies to keep raising list prices —  and pushing up the cost to insurance companies and hospitals that are the biggest spenders on pharmaceuticals. 

Unlike its rival Novo Nordisk, which committed to only single-digit price increases going forward, Lilly hasn’t commit to any caps on drug price increases, and neither company has lowered their list prices, or the prices set by the drugmaker before any rebates or discounts are applied.

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