In an interview this past week with Stat+, Novo Nordisk CEO Lars Fruergaard Jørgensen suggested that under 1 in 10 people who purchase his company’s insulin struggle to afford it.
“Probably below 10% of our patients are struggling to afford a life-saving medicine, but because of the market structure, we have to give rebates to get on a formulary to get to the 90% of the patients who may not be struggling,” Jørgensen said in the interview.
The figure put forward by Jørgensen is much lower than that found by researchers in an oft-cited study on insulin rationing. That 2019 study, conducted by researchers at Yale, Harvard, and other institutions, found that roughly 25% of patients ration insulin due to cost.
Jørgensen made this comment during an interview with Stat+ conducted while he was in the midst of what he characterized as a “listening tour” in an attempt to understand the rising anger over the insulin pricing crisis. He said he was trying to compare the rhetoric of frustration and rage against pharmaceutical companies with the fact that his company is seeing a rapid reduction in net pricing.
At several points during the interview, Jørgensen blames pharmaceutical benefit managers (PBMs) for the high cost of insulin, saying that Novo Nordisk risks losing placement in insurance formularies if it lowers the net price of insulin too much. In the United States, PBMs make money by negotiating with a pharmaceutical company to set the rate of a drug or treatment, and then splitting the difference with insurers.
In the interview, Jørgensen cited the expansion of Novo Nordisk’s financial assistance program for patients as an example of how his company is attempting to help customers. Though pressed by interviewer Ed Silverman several times, Jørgensen declined to share specifics of other actions Novo Nordisk is planning to undertake to make insulin more affordable. He did say, however, that Novo Nordisk is considering the release of a generic version of its higher-priced insulin, as Lilly did in March 2019.
When Silverman explained that many people become angry when they learn about the low cost of manufacturing insulin, Jørgensen said that there are many costs for his company to bring later-innovation therapies to market.
“Every innovation comes with a price and unless we can price (for) innovation, there will be no innovation,” he said.
To read the complete Stat+ interview, click here (log-in required).