House Democrats press insulin manufacturers for lower prices

House Democrats press insulin manufacturers for lower prices
© Greg Nash

Democratic leaders of the House Energy and Commerce Committee ramped up pressure on three major insulin manufacturers on Thursday to push to reduce the cost of the diabetes treatment.

Full committee Chairman Frank Pallone Jr. (D-N.J.) and oversight subcommittee Chairwoman Diana DeGetteDiana Louise DeGetteDeGette calls for 'lean and mean' health research agency to tackle diabetes The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by ExxonMobil - Democrats ask what went wrong on Election Day The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by ExxonMobil - Political earthquake rocks Virginia; New Jersey too close to call MORE (D-Colo.) requested Eli Lilly, Novo Nordisk and Sanofi detail the actions they’ve taken to improve insulin prices since the committee inquired about the topic in early 2019. The three companies control 99 percent of the world’s insulin.

“The Committee is troubled that despite your company’s expressions of shared concern, insulin prices in the United States remain unacceptably high,” the lawmakers wrote in the letters. “This is particularly frustrating considering Americans continue to bear a disproportionately high financial burden for their insulin compared to diabetes patients in other countries.” 

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Pallone and DeGette expressed concern to the companies about “many” of the 34 million American diabetes patients left “without meaningful access to insulin due to its cost,” noting that insulin has not changed much since its production almost 100 years ago.

The lawmakers called for the manufacturers to provide information since their last communication in January 2019, including an explanation of any list or net price increases and the gross revenue and net profit by product and year.

Pallone and DeGette also requested a description of what steps the companies have taken to improve accessibility and decrease cost, as well as a description of how the COVID-19 pandemic affected the products “in any way.” The companies’ responses are due on Sept. 17.

The letters cite the companies’ previous 2019 responses, including through letters and testimonies, saying they showed the manufacturers had a “shared concern” about insulin prices.

“We are committed to increasing access to affordable medicines and fighting the rising cost of insulin,” Pallone and DeGette wrote. “Given your company’s representations in 2019 that this is a shared concern, we are interested in learning what has been done to alleviate this issue since that time.”

Eli Lilly called insulin affordability "critical" in a statement to The Hill, saying all eligible customers who are uninsured, use commercial insurance, Medicaid or participating Medicare Part D can buy their monthly prescription for $35.

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"Lilly is committed to ensuring affordable insulin is available to people who need it," the company said. "Anyone paying more than $35 per month for their prescription of Lilly insulin can call the Lilly Diabetes Solution Center."

Although the company said it has not increased prices for an insulin product since May 2017, the lawmakers called the cost “unjustifiably high.”

Novo Nordisk said in a statement that it is aware of the letter and looks "forward to ongoing dialogue with the Committee on policy solutions that support patients."

The company said it has expanded its affordability programs and made efforts to improve the usability and accessibility of the programs "all while continuing to advocate for broader changes in the healthcare system."

"We are committed to doing our part to address affordability challenges for people living with diabetes," Novo Nordisk said.

The Hill has reached out to Sanofi for comment.

Sanofi told the House committee two years ago that it “fully understands the importance to patients of both access to, and affordability of, our medicines” and that it is “committed to helping patients get the treatment that they are prescribed.”

But the committee leaders noted in their new letter that Sanofi’s 2021 pricing report shows the costs of one of its insulin products have risen 82 percent since 2012.

The high-cost of insulin has stirred debate about health care access in recent years. The American Diabetes Association has reported the average price of insulin tripled between 2002 and 2013 and almost doubled between 2012 and 2016.

Walmart announced in June its plans to launch a new brand of insulin that will be much cheaper for patients without insurance.

Updated 3:48 p.m.