Pharmaceutical manufacturer Eli Lilly announced on Wednesday that it will cap out-of-pocket insulin costs at $35 per month for people with private insurance — a massive reduction in price for a life-saving medicine for people with diabetes.
Over 30 million Americans have diabetes, and about 8 million of them need daily insulin, which can cost over $1,000 a month, even for people with insurance. Many diabetics, unable to afford insulin, have been rationing their supplies and using less than they need. In a few highly publicized cases, people who couldn't afford it and were rationing insulin have died.
A carton of insulin that costs $20 in Canada costs $300 in the US, according to one 2019 editorial in the New England Journal of Medicine.
Eli Lilly’s new policy comes after intense pressure from lawmakers and consumer advocates. The Inflation Reduction Act, which took effect on Jan. 1, requires capping insulin costs at $35 per month for Medicare users. Now Eli Lilly is extending this lower price to more people. Other insulin makers are likely to follow suit.
But there is another possible reason Eli Lilly is making this change: Elon Musk’s bumbling of the Twitter Blue verification rollout, and one guy from Queens who decided to exploit it to troll Eli Lilly.
In early November 2022, Twitter started offering verified checkmarks to paid $8-per-month Twitter Blue subscribers. The first few days were an undisputed disaster, with impersonators running roughshod all over the timeline. For example, a verified "Nintendo" account tweeted a picture of Mario giving the finger.
Sean Morrow, 34, a writer for the site More Perfect Union, also wanted to get in on the verification prank action. He switched the handle of an old novelty account he had to @EliLillyandCo and tweeted: “We are excited to announce insulin is free now.”
The tweet went viral, amplified by people who may have mistakenly believed it was real and those who understood it was a goof. Morrow deftly executed a dunk on both Eli Lilly (many believed that a corporation valued at $300 billion should already be making insulin free) and Musk’s Twitter for its poorly thought-out new feature.
Morrow doesn’t have diabetes, but he was compelled by the injustice of insulin pricing. “I always saw it as one of the worst corporate exploitations of everyone else in a world of terrible corporate exploitations of everyone else,” he told BuzzFeed News.
Twitter, then beset with embarrassing fake corporate accounts, lost potentially millions as advertisers pulled out, scared of being the next middle-finger Mario. According to reports, people inside Eli Lilly were scrambling to get in touch with anyone at Twitter to get Morrow’s tweet taken down — but they were unable to for hours because Twitter had laid off many of its ad services staff.
Eli Lilly pulled all its ad budget from Twitter immediately after the snafu. Musk’s dream of $8 verification also stumbled, as it had to pause the Blue subscription program while it figured out how to stop impersonators.
But the ersatz Eli Lilly tweet had other consequences: The pharmaceutical company’s stock dropped over 4.37% (although there may have been other factors, including similar market dips that day from other pharmaceutical makers). Additionally, it brought extra public attention to the issue of insulin prices — something advocacy groups and diabetics had been trying to accomplish for years. Public shaming does work, sometimes.
Morrow, who publicly revealed that he was behind the tweet two weeks after posting it, told BuzzFeed News that he is aware that the price cut was probably already in the works — but there’s a chance that the public pressure caused by his tweet sped up the decision.
But let’s not overcomplicate it. Let’s all take the W on this one.
“I did have an emotional reaction to this news,” Morrow said of Eli Lilly’s announcement. “I haven't really cried since the season finale of The Leftovers, but I felt some welling up, even if I don't trust Lilly's motivations here.”