Insulin drugmakers again come under Senate scrutiny
- Leaders of the Senate Finance Committee on Friday launched an investigation into rising insulin prices in the U.S., ratcheting up political pressure on diabetes drugmakers Eli Lilly, Novo Nordisk and Sanofi.
- "We are concerned that the substantial increases in the price of insulin over the past several years will continue their upward drive and pose increasingly severe hardships not only on patients that require access to the drug in order to stay alive but also on the taxpayer," wrote Sens. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, and Ron Wyden, D-Ore., in a Feb. 22 joint statement.
- The senators sent letters to the three pharma companies, which together manufacture nearly all the insulin sold in the U.S., requesting information on how the drugmakers priced their products over the past five years. All three have faced legal and legislative scrutiny on insulin prices in recent years, as well as class action lawsuits in several states.
Grassley and Wyden's requests to Lilly, Novo and Sanofi come on the heels of similar requests in recent weeks from Democrats on the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions committee and the House Oversight committee.
The three companies make the top-selling insulin products in the U.S., including Sanofi's Lantus (insulin glargine) and Lilly's Humalog (insulin lispro), and together control the vast majority of the market for the life-saving drug.
Letters from the lawmakers highlight steady and significant increases in insulin list prices over the past two decades, citing data from GoodRx. Recent data provided by Sanofi show the French drugmaker has raised the list prices of its insulin products in the U.S. by 126% since 2012, although increased rebates to payers has meant net prices have declined by 25% over that same time period.
Congress has frequently pressured drugmakers to provide information on how prices are set in recent years, including past requests from Senate and House committees on insulin products. State attorneys general have sought similar information in requests and civil investigative demands.
Announcement of the fresh investigation from Grassley and Wyden takes on greater significance, however, amid a push from the Trump administration for action on drug prices. A recent proposal from the Department of Health and Human Services, for instance, seeks to do away with certain drug rebates paid by pharma companies to pharmacy benefit managers and insurers in Medicare.
Next week, Senate Finance will hold a hearing on drug pricing more broadly in which top executives from seven major drugmakers, including Sanofi, are set to testify. Eli Lilly and Novo Nordisk were not invited to attend.
Insulins have become a flash point in the debate over drug pricing. Rising prices have exposed some patients to higher out-of-pocket costs and put access to the needed drugs at risk. At the same time, payer pushback and increased competition has meant a widening spread between drugmaker list prices and prices after rebates and discounts — a fact drugmakers have called attention to in an effort to shift criticism.
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