As the health care industry faces increasing pressure over the hefty price of insulin, a major health insurer is taking action. Cigna and Express Scripts, the company's pharmacy benefit manager, announced Wednesday that under a new program being rolled out later this year and further expanded in 2020, commercial plan members will pay no more than $25 per 30-day supply of insulin even if they haven't yet met their deductible. The Washington Post reports that about 700,000 patients, mostly those with employer-sponsored health coverage, will be impacted by the change. As high drug prices in general have come under more scrutiny, insulin is a particular focus since it is a hormone needed to stay alive. Those with Type 1 diabetes don't produce any insulin, and thus need the drug to survive, and insulin prices have skyrocketed over the past two decades.
"For people with diabetes, insulin can be as essential as air," says Steve Miller, Cigna’s chief clinical officer. "We need to ensure these individuals feel secure in their ability to afford every fill so they don’t miss one dose." Another Cigna exec tells the Post the company made deals with all three insulin manufacturers in the US for discounts, so Cigna itself won't be eating all the costs. Last year, Cigna members paid an average of $41.50 per month for insulin, per CNN. The exec adds that Cigna has been working on the issue for a while, even before Congress started putting pressure on drugmakers and others in the health care and pharmacy industries over drug prices. Express Scripts and other pharmacy middlemen will appear at a Senate Finance Committee hearing on drug prices next week, and the aforementioned three insulin makers will be on Capitol Hill next week for another hearing. (Did insulin rationing kill a 26-year-old?)