Musk's Twitter chaos throws outrageous insulin prices into the spotlight

Musk’s Twitter chaos throws outrageous insulin prices into the spotlight

Lawyers held a vigil in September 2019 outside the offices of Eli Lillys in New York, honoring those who lost their lives due to the high cost of insulin and demanding lower prices for insulin.
Enlarge / Lawyers held a vigil in September 2019 outside the offices of Eli Lillys in New York, honoring those who lost their lives due to the high cost of insulin and demanding lower prices for insulin.

Social media platform Twitter has been mired in uncertainty and disorder in the few, but long, days since billionaire Elon Musk took the helm. But beyond the din of fake accounts and wayward policy shifts, a fury-fueled dialogue has erupted on the platform over what is perhaps an unexpected topic: the exorbitant price of insulin.

Early Thursday afternoon (EST), an account posing as pharmaceutical giant Eli Lilly, with the Twitter handle @EliLillyandCo, the company’s logo and a blue checkmark next to its name – which once only signaled the verification of account identity, but has since flagged the accounts of those who simply paid an $8 subscription fee — tweeted the tantalizing but untrue claim: “We are thrilled to announce that insulin is now free.”

The tweetwhich remained publicly visible for at least four hours, began viral spread, garnering at least 1,798 retweets and 12,800 likes before the account is set to protected, which means that only approved followers can see his tweets. The account currently has no followers.

In the ensuing period, the real verified Eli Lilly account, with the handle @LillyPad, acknowledged the false information in a tweet from 4:09 p.m.. “We apologize to those who received a misleading message from a fake Lilly account. Our official Twitter account is @LillyPad.”

Outrage verified

But that wasn’t enough to stem the tide of outrage and contempt at the all-too-real prices of insulin in the United States. “Apologize to diabetics for price gouging”, a Twitter user replied. “Why don’t you make affordable insulin instead of apologizing? » another tweeted in an increasing stack.

The reason for the backlash is painfully obvious. Insulin, a hormone made by the body to process and use blood sugar (glucose), may be life-saving medicine for the 37.3 million Americans with diabetes, which is a set of conditions that, on one generally interfere with the ability of body cells to use sugar. About 8.4 million Americans rely on insulin to survive, according to the American Diabetes Association. Generally, it costs $10 or less to make a vial of insulin. Yet patients in the United States can easily see monthly insulin bills in the hundreds of dollars.

For example, the list price for Eli Lilly’s branded product, Humalog U-100, is $274.70 for a single 10ml bottle. People with diabetes often need two, three or more vials per month. A five-pack of 3ml Humalog U-100 KwikPens has a list price of $530.40. Eli Lilly also offers an unbranded generic product, called Lispro Injection U-100, which has list prices of $82.41 for a single 10ml bottle or $159.12 for a 3ml five-pack – and that are relatively cheap prices. Eli Lilly has just slashed the list price of Lispro, knocking it down 40% in 2021 amid public backlash.

No quick fix

The cost can be a huge expense for many Americans. Worse, it leads some to skimp on the amount of insulin they use compared to what they need to control their blood sugar to a healthy level. It can be a potentially deadly bet. Yet a recent study published in the Annals of Internal Medicine found that 1.3 million Americans, or more than 15% of those who use insulin, have rationed their insulin, putting their lives at risk.

There is help on the way – for some. The Cut Inflation Act, signed into law in August, will cap insulin outlays for people on Medicare at just $35 a month, starting in 2023. But the proposed caps for those with commercial insurance have been abandoned, and there is no protection for those who are uninsured. This is of particular concern given that the Annals of Internal Medicine study found that those most likely to ration insulin are people under 65, who are not yet eligible for Medicare.

The indignation therefore continues on Twitter in the din of the chaos of the platform. On Thursday night, another blue tick account posing as Eli Lilly with the handle LiIlyPadCo, tweeted a drug maker apology parodywriting: “We apologize to those who received a misleading message from a fake Lilly account regarding the cost of diabetic care. Humalog is now $400. We can do it anytime we want and there’s nothing you can do about it Suck Our official Twitter account is @LiIlyPadCo.” In the middle of the responses, the account replied, “$500 now. Do you want to continue?” The account has since been suspended.


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