Minnesota AG sues drug companies over insulin price hikes

Minnesota AG sues drug companies over insulin price hikes
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The Minnesota attorney general on Tuesday filed a lawsuit against three major pharmaceutical companies for “deceptive and misleading” price increases for insulin to treat diabetes.

“Insulin is a life-or-death drug for people with diabetes,” Minnesota Attorney General Lori Swanson (D) said in a statement. “Many people can’t afford the price hikes but can’t afford to stop taking the medication either.”

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The lawsuit was filed against the country's three major makers of insulin: Sanofi-Aventis, Novo Nordisk and Eli Lilly and Co.

"We believe the claims are without merit, and we will defend against them vigorously," an Eli Lilly spokesman said. "We have no further comment at this time.”

Novo Nordisk, however, said only that it is looking into the examinations. 

"We take this matter seriously, and are currently examining the allegations made in the complaint," a Novo Nordisk spokesman said. "As a company committed to ethics and compliance in how we support patients, we ensure that our business practices are consistent with legal and regulatory requirements."

Sanofi said it is "aware of the lawsuit, believes it to be without merit and will vigorously defend against it."

The lawsuit points to price spikes for insulin, a common example advocates use to highlight problems with high drug prices. It's an issue Democrats have made a major priority if they take back the House in November and one President TrumpDonald John TrumpTrump: 'I will not let Iran have nuclear weapons' Rocket attack hits Baghdad's Green Zone amid escalating tensions: reports Buttigieg on Trump tweets: 'I don't care' MORE has called attention to also.

For example, Swanson said that one insulin product, Lantus, made by Sanofi, rose from a price of $99.35 in 2010 to $269.54 in 2018.

The lawsuit alleges that there is a deceptive difference between the sticker price of these insulins and the actual price that insurers pay after negotiators known as pharmacy benefit managers (PBMs) get discounts.

The attorney general says drug companies are raising the sticker price ever higher so that they can give larger discounts to the PBMs, which helps them secure more favorable coverage of their products relative to their competitors in insurance plans.

The problem, Swanson says, is that the spiking sticker prices hurt people who don’t have insurance or who have high deductibles they have to pay before insurance kicks in.

“The lawsuit alleges that the list prices the drug companies set are so far from their net prices that they are not an accurate approximation of the true cost of insulin and are deceptive and misleading,” the attorney general’s office says.

-- Updated 3:53 p.m.