Big drug company CEOs to testify at Senate Health committee on insulin prices

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In this photo illustration, an insulin pen manufactured by the Novo Nordisk company is displayed 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 May 10 before the Senate Health Committee on lowering prices of their diabetes drugs, panel Chairman Sen. Bernie Sanders said Friday.

Those companies — Eli Lilly, Novo Nordisk and Sanofi — had announced in March that they will slash prices of their most widely used insulin products by 70% or more.

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Sanders on Friday called that move an important step forward that was the result of “public outrage and strong grassroots efforts.”

But the Vermont independent added that Congress must ensure that insulin, whose price has increased by more than 1,000% since 1996, is affordable for everyone.

“We must make certain, however, that those price reductions go into effect in a way that results in every American getting the insulin they need at an affordable price,” Sanders said in a statement announcing the scheduled testimony of Eli Lilly CEO David Ricks, Sanofi CEO Paul Hudson and Novo Nordisk CEO Lars Fruergaard Jorgensen.

The companies’ versions of insulin cost at least $275 before the announced price slashes, Sanders noted.

Eli Lilly declined to comment when asked about the scheduled hearing. A Sanofi spokesperson said the company supports efforts to lower costs and believes other parts of the health-care system need to do more to help patients. Novo Nordisk said its CEO looks forward to “a productive and collaborative discussion about this important issue.”

Top executives from the three major pharmacy benefit managers CVS Health, Express Scripts and Optum Rx also testify, according to Sanders’ office. Those 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 plans. PBMs have come under criticism for allegedly inflating drug prices and not passing on all the discounts they negotiate to consumers.

The Health and Human Services Department estimates that 17% of patients using insulin in 2021 had to ration the drug due to high costs.

About 19% of insulin users with private insurance rationed the drug, and 29% of the uninsured who use insulin did so, according to HHS.

The decision by the drugmakers to slash insulin prices came a month after President Joe Biden called in his State of the Union address for Congress to cap insulin prices at $35 per month.

Biden’s Inflation Reduction Act introduced that cap for people on Medicare, the government-run health coverage program for primarily senior citizens, but the law did not include people with private insurance.

More than 2 million patients with diabetes who take insulin are privately insured, according to HHS.

And about 150,000 patients who take insulin do not have insurance, the department says.

On Thursday, two senators, Jeanne Shaheen, D-N.H., and Susan Collins, R-Maine, introduced bipartisan legislation that would require private health insurance to cap prices at $35 per month for one of each insulin type and dosage form. The bill includes other measures to reduce prices.

Insulin types include rapid, short, intermediate and long acting, as well as pre-mixed. Dosage forms include vials, pens and inhalers.

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