Pictured here is a Novo Nordisk insulin pen on display on March 14, 2023 in Miami, Florida.
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The top executives of the three drug companies that control 90% of the global insulin market will testify before the Senate Health Committee on May 10 about cutting the prices of their diabetes drugs, the panel’s chairman, Sen. Bernie Sanders, said on Friday.
Those companies — Eli Lilly, Novo Nordisk, and Sanofi — announced in March that they would slash the prices of their most commonly used insulin products by 70% or more.
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Sanders on Friday called the move an important step forward that was the result of “public outrage and strong grassroots efforts.”
However, the independent Vermonter added that Congress must ensure that insulin, which has increased in price by more than 1,000% since 1996, is affordable for all.
“However, we must ensure that these price cuts take effect in a manner that ensures every American has the insulin they need at an affordable price,” Sanders said in a statement announcing planned testimony from Eli Lilly CEO David Ricks. Paul Hudson, CEO of Sanofi and Lars Fruergaard Jorgensen, CEO of Novo Nordisk.
The companies’ versions of insulin cost at least $275 before the announced price cuts, Sanders noted.
Eli Lilly declined to comment when asked about the scheduled hearing. A Sanofi spokesman said the company supports efforts to cut costs and believes other parts of the healthcare system need to do more to help patients. Novo Nordisk said its CEO looks forward to “a productive and collaborative discussion on this important issue.”
Top executives of the big three pharma benefit managers CVS HealthExpress scripts and Optim Rx also testify, according to Sanders’ office. These executives are David Joyner, President of CVS Health Pharmacy Services; Adam Kautzner, President of Express Scripts; and Heather Cianfrocco, CEO of Optum Rx.
Pharmacy benefit managers are the middlemen who negotiate drug prices with manufacturers on behalf of health insurance companies. PBMs have come under criticism for allegedly inflating drug prices and not passing on all the discounts they negotiate to consumers.
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The Health and Human Services Department estimates that 17% of patients using insulin in 2021 had to ration the drug due to high costs.
According to HHS, about 19% of privately insured insulin users have rationed the drug, and 29% of uninsured insulin users have done so.
The decision by drugmakers to cut insulin prices came a month after President Joe Biden asked Congress to cap insulin prices to $35 a month in his State of the Union address.
Biden’s Inflation Mitigation Act introduced this cap for people on Medicare, the state health insurance program for mostly seniors, but the law didn’t include those with private insurance.
According to HHS, more than 2 million patients with diabetes who take insulin have private insurance.
And about 150,000 patients who take insulin are uninsured, the department says.
On Thursday, two senators, Jeanne Shaheen, DN.H., and Susan Collins, R-Maine, introduced bipartisan legislation that would require private health insurers to raise the price of one of each insulin type and dosage form to $35 a month to limit. The draft law provides for further price reduction measures.
Types of insulin include fast, short, medium, long-acting, and premixed. Dosage forms include vials, pens, and inhalers.