Eli Lilly CEO Dave Ricks has promised not to raise prices on the company’s existing insulin products again. He was the only executive to do so before a Senate Health Committee hearing on making the life-saving diabetes drug more affordable. Sen. Bernie Sanders, the committee’s chair, asked Ricks and the CEOs of Novo Nordisk and Sanofi to commit to “never increase the price of any insulin drug again.” The three companies control over 90% of the global insulin market.
“We’ll leave our prices as they are for the insulins on the market today,” Ricks told the Vermont senator. “In fact, we’ve been cutting them.” Meanwhile, Novo Nordisk CEO Lars Fruergaard Jørgensen said the Danish company is committed to limiting price increases to “single digits.” Sanofi CEO Paul Hudson responded that the company has a “responsible pricing policy.”
Companies have faced political pressure to make insulin more affordable
All three companies have faced years of political pressure to make insulin more affordable for people with diabetes. In March, they each announced that they will slash the prices of their most widely used insulin products. Lilly said it would price its Lispro injection at $25 a vial, effective May 1, and slash the price of its Humalog and Humulin injections by 70% starting in the fourth quarter. Novo Nordisk said it would cut the list price of its NovoLog insulin by 75% and lower the prices for Levemir and Novolin by 65% starting next year. Sanofi said it plans to cut the price of its most popular insulin drug, Lantus, by 78% and reduce the list price of its short-acting insulin, Apidra, by 70%.
Senators plan to ensure price cuts are effective
At the hearing, Sanders called those actions “good news” and a result of public pressure. But the senator said the committee intends to hold a hearing next year to ensure those price cuts are “in fact happening.” “We just don’t want words. We want actions,” Sanders said in his opening remarks. The hearing also gathered other major players in the insulin industry: top executives from three of the biggest pharmacy benefit managers. PBMs are the middlemen which negotiate drug prices with manufacturers on behalf of health insurance plans.
Sen. Roger Marshall, R-Kan., stressed that 84 cents on every dollar goes to the PBMs. Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, also highlighted a colossal gap between the list and net prices of insulin from 2012 and 2021. Collins asked Ricks to explain “who gets that money” because, “I can tell you that it is not going to the consumer at the pharmacy counter.” Ricks told her to ask the PBMs “how that money gets redistributed.”
The high prices of insulin have forced many Americans to ration insulin or reduce their use of the drug. A 2021 study in the Annals of Internal Medicine found that nearly 1 in 5 U.S. adults either skipped, delayed or used less insulin to save money. The Inflation Reduction Act, the Democratic plan that Biden signed last year, capped monthly insulin costs for Medicare beneficiaries at a $35 monthly prescription, but it fell short of providing protection to diabetes patients who are covered by private insurance.
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