Why is Humalog Expensive? And How Can You Save?

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Tori Marsh
Tori Marsh, MPH, is on the Research Team at GoodRx, and is the resident expert on drug pricing and savings.
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Humalog (insulin lispro) is a fast-acting insulin used to treat diabetes type one and two. Doctors report low levels of adherence to insulins like Humalog because of its cost. Cash prices for Humalog average around $549 for five kwikpens, and there is no generic alternative for any insulin rbrand. Humalog generated billions of dollars in global sales for Eli Lilly in 2016.

Here is some information on Humalog, and how you can save.

When will Humalog see a generic?

Typically, when a manufacturer releases a brand name drug, it is protected by a patent. This means that the manufacturer holds market exclusivity for that drug, preventing other manufacturers from creating an alternative. The idea is to incentivize companies to innovate (such as spending money researching new drugs) with a period when they can reap the rewards for their work. Eventually, though, the patent expires, allowing competitors to create their own versions with the same active ingredient. These are known as generics.

In the case of Humalog, the patent expired in 2015, but no generic is on the market yet, and we may never see one. The reason has to do with the difference between drugs made of chemical formulations (think of any ordinary pill), and those treatments made from living, biologic organisms – such as insulin.

Humalog’s biosimilar ‘follow-on,’ Admelog, was approved last year but is not yet available in pharmacies. Stay tuned, we will keep you updated.

Why are there no generic insulins?

The cash price for insulins can range anywhere from $120 to $600 a month. At the moment, there are no generic insulins on the market, but we do have what are called biosimilars. Without getting too technical, biosimilars are close – but not identical – versions of a biologic. Since insulin medications are made out of living cells, they are slightly different and aren’t deemed therapeutically equivalent, or interchangeable, by the FDA. Where the FDA allows a generic manufacturer to move a chemical drug to market without additional research, biosimilars must go through deeper regulatory scrutiny before approval. They are also harder and more expensive to manufacture. For more information about biosimilars, see our previous blog post here.

Unfortunately, biosimilars, unlike generic drugs, rarely provide any savings to consumers. You may remember the first insulin biosimilar that was approved in 2015 – Basaglar. Basaglar is manufactured as the ‘follow on’ to Sanofi’s Lantus, with the same active ingredient – insulin glargine. When Basaglar was first approved, many were hopeful that it would help to bring down insulin prices and reshape insulin insurance coverage. However, prices for Basaglar remain high; current prices are around $234, and few changes have been made to insulin coverage by insurers.

So how can I save on Humalog?

Bottom line: without insurance, Humalog is expensive. Cash paying patients will have to shell out as much as $549 for a carton of 5 kwikpens. Here’s how you can save.

Are there any alternatives to Humalog?

There are options to Humalog. While the cash prices of these may not significantly less expensive, depending on your insurance coverage, some alternative insulins might be more affordable.

Lantus (insulin glargine), and its biosimilar Basaglar are another type of insulin that has been found to be just as safe and effective as Humalog. Lantus and Basaglar are slightly more affordable, with cash prices averaging at $274 and $234 respectively, but they may be more affordable for you if your insurance covers it. You can read more on how to save on Lantus and Basaglar here.

Novolog (insulin aspart) is another fast-acting insulin that provides all-day blood sugar control, and it can be used by children as young as two years old who have type 1 or type 2 diabetes. The downside with Novolog is that it may cause weight gain, which could require you to adjust your dose.

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