On May 10, the CEOs of Eli Lilly, Novo Nordisk, and Sanofi, the three pharmaceutical companies that dominate 90% of the global insulin market, are scheduled to testify before the Senate Health Committee concerning the reduction of their diabetes drug prices. According to the panel Chairman, Senator Bernie Sanders, these companies had declared in March that they would decrease the costs of their most popular insulin products by at least 70%.
Sanders has acknowledged the significance of this decision, attributing it to public outcry and determined grassroots initiatives. However, he also highlighted the need for Congressional oversight to guarantee that insulin, which has experienced a price surge of over 1,000% since 1996, becomes affordable for everyone.
Healthcare System Players and Insulin Affordability
The upcoming testimony will include Eli Lilly CEO David Ricks, Sanofi CEO Paul Hudson, and Novo Nordisk CEO Lars Fruergaard Jorgensen. Sanders emphasized that, before the price reductions were announced, the companies’ insulin products cost a minimum of $275.
While Eli Lilly has refrained from commenting on the hearing, Sanofi and Novo Nordisk have expressed their support for cost reduction measures, urging other components of the healthcare system to help patients further.
Executives from three major pharmacy benefit managers (PBMs)—CVS Health, Express Scripts, and Optum Rx—will also testify. These PBMs are intermediaries who negotiate drug prices with manufacturers for health insurance plans. However, they have faced criticism for allegedly inflating drug prices and not fully passing negotiated discounts onto consumers.
According to the Health and Human Services Department (HHS), in 2021, 17% of insulin users had to ration their medication due to exorbitant costs. These figures were higher for those with private insurance (19%) and for the uninsured (29%).
The pharmaceutical companies’ decision to reduce insulin prices followed President Joe Biden’s State of the Union address, during which he called on Congress to limit insulin prices to $35 per month. While Biden’s Inflation Reduction Act introduced this cap for Medicare patients, it did not extend to those with private insurance.
HHS data shows that over 2 million privately insured diabetes patients rely on insulin, with an additional 150,000 uninsured patients also requiring the drug. In response to this issue, Senators Jeanne Shaheen and Susan Collins have introduced bipartisan legislation mandating that private health insurance must cap monthly insulin costs at $35 for each type and dosage form, alongside other measures to lower prices. Insulin types consist of rapid, short, intermediate, and long-acting, as well as pre-mixed; dosage forms include vials, pens, and inhalers.
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