California pledges $100 million to start making affordable insulin

California pledges $100 million to start making affordable insulin

Insulin prices are so high that California has decided to make its own, California Governor Gavin Newsom said on Thursday. $100 million of the state’s budget will be put into the effort, which seeks to make the lifesaving drug more affordable after years of skyrocketing prices.

“Nothing epitomizes market failures more than the cost of insulin,” Newsom said in a brief statement posted online, noting that patients can pay $300–$500 a month for the drug.

Insulin is a hormone produced in the body that helps people regulate something called glucose, or blood sugar, which is an important byproduct of the food you eat. People who can’t produce enough insulin, or can’t process insulin, have a condition called diabetes. They need to take additional insulin to help their bodies process food.

Theoretically, that should be a pretty simple treatment. After all, people have been able to manufacture insulin since the 1920s. But thanks to a mire of patents — among other issues — prices of insulin have recently risen to “absurdly high” levels, causing an estimated one in every four people with diabetes to ration their insulin doses, according to one study from 2019.

It’s against this backdrop that Newsom announced plans for CalRx in 2020. CalRx is a program to create generic drugs (including insulin) and sell them to Californians at lower costs either by partnering with manufacturers or creating their own. But the program has been slow to roll out — the insulin push, which Kaiser Health News reported on in June, may kickstart the effort.

Other groups have also tried to combat insulin’s high prices. In Colorado, insulin prices are now capped at $100 thanks to a 2019 law, and many other states have similar caps on the books or in the works. A federal effort to cap insulin prices is also underway. In May, the nonprofit Civica Rx announced it was working on a project to manufacture insulin and sell it for no more than $30 a vial. The group hopes to make insulin available as early as 2024 if it can get approval from the Food and Drug Administration. Civica Rx has had discussions with California and other states about their insulin efforts, KHN reported.

California has not announced when its insulin would be available or precisely how much it will cost. A tweet from the governor’s office noted that many Americans pay $300–$500 a month for the drug and said, “With CA’s insulin, that cost would – at a minimum – be cut in HALF.”