The Hugely Inflated Prices of Glumetza and Metformin ER

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The Hugely Inflated Prices of Glumetza and Metformin ER

I have been taking metformin (Glucophage) for about three years. My doctor recommended it since my A1c reading had been climbing from about 5.5 to 6.3% over a two-year period. There is also a history of Type 2 diabetes on the paternal side of my family. Metformin caused me some stomach upset so I switched to Glumetza, a coated form of the same drug, Glucophage, a standard treatment for diabetes that has been available in the United States since 1995. I have excellent insurance coverage and receive all my medications in the most economical form, three month prescriptions delivered by mail.

On February 6th, Caremark mail service called to tell me there was a prescription coming for which I would have to sign. I told the caller that it was fine to leave it at the door. The Caremark representative said that was not possible since it was a high-value prescription. The prescription came the next day, I signed for it, and I checked the invoice only because the person on the phone had told me it was a “high-value prescription” and I knew it was only metformin.

When I looked at the bottom of the invoice I noticed that the listed price was $14,020.87. My co-pay was $40.00 I called Caremark to tell them about the computer error. I didn’t think it was possible that metformin cost $14,020.87. I was even more certain that this was a computer error because the prescription was not Glumetza, but a generic, metformin ER.

It was no error.

And it was a generic prescription.

The brand name Glumetza, sold for over $16,000 for a three-month supply. I was even more stunned than angry and I began to check around. I was about seven months late to the Glumetza story. Probably many of you followed the sale of Glumetza in 2015 to the now notorious Valeant Pharmaceuticals. By the time I reached an online forum complaining about Glumetza pricing, hundreds of people had already registered their complaints.

Last year the New York Times reported that Valeant had purchased Salix, the maker of Glumetza, and immediately raised the price by 800%. I also learned that Blue Cross of Idaho among others, had removed Glumetza from its formulary in July 2015 because of the sudden price increase. In the Times article a Valeant spokesperson said that it was common practice to raise prices before the branded drug became a generic- Glumetza was scheduled to become a generic drug in February 2016.

So, I may have been very late to the astonishing price increase of Glumetza, but I am, by coincidence, among the first to report that the generic price is almost as ridiculous. My bill, $14,009.23, was for the generic, available, as promised, in February 2016 and manufactured by Lupin, an Indian pharmaceutical company that is the sixth largest maker of generics in the world. The Caremark “resolution specialist” assured me that his company did indeed pay $14,009.23 for generic metformin ER tablets. I called the local Rite Aid pharmacy to ask what a generic metformin prescription would cost.  The pharmacist told me $5.13 for a month supply of 500 mg metformin tablets. I checked a Canadian website which sells Glumetza, the branded drug, for $1.13 per 500 mg tablet. An American Internet wholesaler, Health Warehouse charges $127 per tablet.

Apparently, Walmart and others sell generic metformin and generic Metformin ER for a four dollar co-pay. I hadn’t thought my $40 co-pay was excessive, and I suppose it still isn’t if I’m only paying 10 times more than I would have to pay Walmart while my insurance company is paying $14,009.23 for a five dollar generic prescription.

None of this makes any sense to me nor do I imagine it does to any other reasonable person. If you’ve had a similar experience, please leave a comment below.

Max Apple has published three collections of stories, two novels and two books of non-fiction. His memoir, Roommates, was made into a film as were two other screenplays. His stories and essays are widely anthologized and have appeared in Atlantic, Harpers, Esquire, and many literary magazines. He has received grants from the National Endowment for the Humanities, The National Endowment for the Arts, and the Guggenheim Foundation. His Ph.D. is in 17th century literature. He has given readings at many universities. He spent most of his teaching career at Rice University where he held the Fox Chair in English.   He currently teaches at the University of Pennsylvania. 

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Comments (12)

  1. Katy at

    This is nuts.

  2. Beth at

    This is what needs to change with the US healthcare system… Price gouging everywhere you turn.

  3. No doubt prices are off the wall. Inflated by what the market will bear, is no doubt part of the issue. Thanks for a great item added to the discussion about pricing

    I want you to know i referred your blog to the TUDiabetes blog page for the week of February 29, 2016. I hope this brings you some additional readership.

  4. Susan Cassady at

    If the current trends in pricing continue many will just be priced out of the market and opt to do without needed meds,myself included. I guess that’s one way to get rid of us. Make the meds so expensive that we just give up and die. Problem solved. My ins just made my diabetes med non-formulary and tripled my cost. So do I pay the extra or switch meds? Very discouraging. This is not America’s best moment.

  5. Stephanie H. at

    I was told the cost for 60 generic Metformin ER 1000 mg tablets at my local Ingles pharmacy would be about $1,700. Fortunately, the 500 mg tablets are on their generic formularly, so I’m getting 120 generic MetforminER 500 mg tablets for $6. Unfortunately, this generic formulation doesn’t seem to be working as well as the generic formulation I was getting at Walgreen’s, which is a common problem I’ve read about.

    There’s no reason a generic medication this commonly used and prescribed should be so expensive.

  6. Wayne S. R.Ph. at

    Metformin is available in immediate release tablets as well as extended release or sustained release (SR)tablets. Gastrointestional (GI) side effects are fairly common with the immediate release forms but the extended release forms provide notable reductions in diarrhea and nausea. There are 3 different versions of extended release metformin: 1. metformin SR (Generic for Glucophage XR) as 500mg or 750mg tablets, 2. metformin SR osmotic (Generic for Fortamet)as 500mg or 1000mg tablets, 3. metformin SR modified release (Generic for Glumetza) as 500mg or 1000mg tablets. One of the ways drug manufacturers are able to obtain or extend patent protection is by altering the way a drug is released. This is likely why there 3 versions. THERE IS NO EVIDENCE ONE OF THESE IS BETTER TOLERATED THAN ANOTHER. However, there are HUGE price differences. The generic of the Glucophage XR version is the least expensive. A comparison of a 2000mg daily dose (1000mg twice a day) is as follows (price ranges are from GoodRx for a 30 day supply): Generic for Glucophage XR 120 of the 500mg tablets (2-500mg tablets twice a day) is $10 to $35. The generic for Fortamet 60 of the 1000mg tablets is $184 to $761. The generic for Glumetza 60 of the 1000mg tablets is $2,098 to $5,417. In order to ensure you receive the lease expensive product, be sure your doctor specifies the generic for Glucophage XR. If the prescription is just written or as “Metformin extended release”, the pharmacist may use “professional judgement” for product selection and you could end up paying more than you need to.

  7. Mycie at

    I and my digestive tract have to disagree that there is no difference between Glumetza and the old generic extended release (metformin SR?)! I switched to Glumetza after experiencing stomach problems for several months. And yes, I did try slowly increasing my dosage to allow my system to adjust; it never did. Glumetza, however, casued no problems and my blood glucose seemed to average about 10 points lower (though that could have been dure to other factors). Sadly, my insurance just dropped Glumetza, so here’s hoping the the generic form of it will be coverered. Otherwise, I don’t know what I will do.

  8. Christie at

    I can only take the Glumetza, if I take regular glucoppaghe/metformin I can’t leave my house. The gastric issues are immense, I didn’t work for 10 years. Then I started on Glumetza and life was good. I could go out, work, take vacations without worrying about constant need to run to the bathroom or doubling over in pain. Now my insurance won’t pay for Glumetza which is only $1700, nor will it pay for the new Lupin generic because it’s $20,000. Wtf. So for the last 2 weeks, I’ve taken nothing.

  9. Deb at

    I have the same issue. I was told by my insurance carrier that a 90 day supply of Glumetza was $21,600.00 and that the insurance would only allow for a price of $15,000.00 – which is still completely asinine! I can’t believe Valeant can sleep at night knowing what they are charging for prescriptions. Shame on you! Shame on you! Finally getting my diabetes under control and then this!

  10. Deb at

    Valeant you should be ashamed of yourself. Tried to get my prescription refilled and can’t because you are charging $21,600.00 for a 90 day dosage! Bad enough having a disease but then wondering if you can take medication to help it is truly unbelievable!

  11. Jim at

    For all who have posted your complaints on Valeant can you tell me what good other than you may feel better because you got it off your chest. I suggest you write your congress with your complaint. Tell them you want price controls and companies fined for price gouging as they do gasoline companies.If all that post a complaint actually do this you might see some results. Just saying

  12. Karl at

    There are three different Metformin Prescriptions at play here. Metformin ER (Generic to Glucophage XR) which has been around for several years, it costs around $5.00 for a 30 day supply. There is also Metformin ER Modified Release (Generic to Glumetza) which is a newer product that has a unique delivery system, it’s price was increased over 800% by the manufacturer in 2015. Then there is Metformin ER Osmotic (Generic Fortamet) which is a newer product that also has a unique delivery system. It’s price is also very high. Keep in mind, the manufacturers have complete control over the cost. If you were getting generic Fortamet or Glumetza at Retail, it’s going to be extremely expensive as well. But the most common is the generic for Glucophage XR, so that’s what a pharmacy will quote, unless you specifically ask about the Modified Release or Osmotic.

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