Senate Finance Committee Turns Sights to Insulin Costs

As part of its investigation into drug pricing, the Senate Finance Committee is launching a bipartisan probe into insulin prices, while a Democratic congressman from Vermont announced a bill to allow the importation of insulin from Canada and other countries.
Allison Inserro
February 25, 2019
As part of its investigation into drug pricing, the Senate Finance Committee is launching a bipartisan probe into insulin prices.

In addition, a Democratic congressman from Vermont, Peter Welch, unveiled a bill to allow the importation of insulin from Canada and other countries.

On Friday, Senate Finance Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, and Ranking Member Ron Wyden, D-Oregon, sent 3 letters to the heads of insulin manufacturers Eli Lilly, Novo Nordisk, and Sanofi seeking information regarding recent price increases of up to 500% or more.

Sanofi’s chief executive officer, Olivier Brandicourt, is already scheduled to testify Tuesday before the committee as part of its probe into drug pricing, which started last month. According to 1 report, Brandicourt is looking to lay the blame for high prices at the feet of pharmacy benefit managers (PBMs) and the impact that rebates have on what patients wind up paying.

In the letters, Grassley and Wyden seek detailed information about 30 different points related to drug pricing, research and development costs, rebate agreements, PBM pacts, patient assistance programs, donations to patient advocacy groups, production and marketing and advertising, revenues and gross margins from selling insulin, and the companies’ funding of patient assistance programs. The companies have until March 8 to respond.

In a statement, the senators said that the price of Eli Lilly’s Humalog increased from $35 to $234 between 2001 and 2015, a 585% increase. The price of Novo Nordisk’s Novolog increased from $289 to $540 between 2013 and 2019, an approximately 87% increase. The price of Sanofi’s Lantus increased from $244 to $431 between 2013 and 2019, an approximately 77% increase.

The Senate Finance Committee oversees Medicare and Medicaid; the letter notes that in 2012, Medicare Part D spending for Lantus was $1.1 billion; by 2016, Part D spending was $1.7 billion. Medicaid spending swelled from $314 million to $785 million.

Last month, the finance committee held its first hearing on drug prices, and as part of that session it heard from a mother who talked about her son rationing his insulin because of the $1700 monthly cost.

Rationing is common among patients with diabetes, said an endocrinologist who appeared with Welch last week when he introduced his bill at a news conference. Welch’s bill would allow patients to import insulin from Canada and other countries. The FDA and HHS have not endorsed that option, given concerns with quality control, counterfeits, and other issues.

In January, Grassley and Senator Amy Klobuchar, D-Minnesota, also introduced a bill that would allow imports from Canada.

The rise in insulin prices was the main factor in the increase in healthcare spending over 4 years for poeple with type 1 diabetes, a report from the Health Care Cost Institute said last month.

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