DOSE OF REALITY: SENATORS MUST HOLD BIG PHARMA ACCOUNTABLE FOR EGREGIOUS INSULIN PRICING PRACTICES
Lawmakers Have Opportunity to Grill Big Pharma Executives on Tactics Like “Shadow Pricing” that Drove Crisis of Insulin Affordability
On Wednesday, the U.S. Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) will get an opportunity to hold the Big Pharma companies that dominate the insulin market accountable for egregious pricing practices that pushed the price of this life-saving medicine out-of-reach for too many Americans. Executives for Novo Nordisk, Eli Lilly and Sanofi, who control 99 percent of the insulin marketplace, will testify at the hearing, titled, “The Need to Make Insulin Affordable for All Americans.”
Big Pharma is the sole entity responsible for setting and hiking prices on the brand name prescription drugs in their portfolio, including insulin products. Big Pharma has repeatedly hiked insulin prices at rates far out-pacing inflation, despite little or no improvement to the life-saving drug. Between 1996 and 2006, the price of insulin increased by 700 percent. And in 2016, the average price per month reached $450, leaving one-in-four American patients prescribed this medication struggling to afford it.
A 2021 U.S. Senate Finance Committee report revealed Novo Nordisk, Sanofi And Eli Lilly worked in “lockstep” to limit competition and increase prices:
- Over The Past Decade, The Three Largest Manufacturers Of Insulin – Novo Nordisk, Sanofi And Eli Lilly – “Aggressively Raised The List Price Of Their Insulin Products Absent Significant Advances In The Efficacy Of The Drugs.” “Sanofi’s long-acting insulin pens, Lantus SoloStar, increased from $303 in 2014 to $404 in 2019. The WAC price of Novo Nordisk’s long-acting insulin pens, Levemir FlexTouch, increased from $303 in May 2014 to approximately $462 in January 2019, representing an increase of $159—or 52%— in a little more than five years. Eli Lilly’s rapid-acting insulin, Humalog 50-50 Kwikpen, had a WAC of $530 in 2017 compared to $323 in 2013—an increase of $207 or 64% in four years. Sanofi’s rapid acting insulin, Apidra Solostar, also increased—from $302 in 2014 to $521 in 2019— while Novo Nordisk’s rapid-acting insulin, Novolog FlexPen, rose from $324 in 2013 to $558 in 2018, representing a more than 70% WAC price hike for both companies during this time period.” (Staff Report, “Insulin: Examining The Factors Driving The Rising Cost Of A Century Old Drug,” United States Senate Finance Committee, 1/14/21)
- Sanofi Aggressively Increased Its List Price Between 2012 And 2014 In Response To Market Pressure And Competition. “From 2001 to 2012, Sanofi increased list price as much as 18% annually, raising its price from $34 to $131 by the end of 2012. However, in 2013 and 2014, Sanofi embarked on much more aggressive increases, nearly doubling the drug’s WAC to $248 by the end of 2014.” (Staff Report, “Insulin: Examining The Factors Driving The Rising Cost Of A Century Old Drug,” United States Senate Finance Committee, 1/14/21)
- “Novo Nordisk And Sanofi Not Only Closely Monitored The Others’ Price Increases, They Actually Increased Prices In Lockstep—Sometimes Within Hours Or Days Of Each Other—A Practice Known As ‘Shadow Pricing.’” “Rather than seeking to undercut its competitors’ pricing, from 2014 on Novo Nordisk engaged in a cat-and-mouse strategy of pricing that followed Sanofi’s price increases closely, sometimes mirroring them within days or even hours. In 2015, Novo Nordisk changed its pricing strategy in advance of launching Tresiba, its next generation basal insulin (also known as long-acting insulin). Instead of following Sanofi, it led with a list price increase in order to set a high basal insulin price floor from which to launch Tresiba’s initial list price. However, in 2017 and 2018, Novo Nordisk resumed increasing its list price to respond to Sanofi’s pricing actions. According to internal memoranda, on October 1, 2017, Sanofi increased Lantus’s list price by 3% and Toujeo’s list price by 5.4%. Roughly three weeks later, Novo Nordisk recommended that the company make a 4% list price increase on January 1, 2018, in response to Sanofi, which was approved as recommended on November 3, 2017. Novo Nordisk would make at least one more list price increase in response to Sanofi in 2018.” (Staff Report, “Insulin: Examining The Factors Driving The Rising Cost Of A Century Old Drug,” United States Senate Finance Committee, 1/14/21)
- Spending On Insulin Products Has Increased Significantly For The Medicare Program And Its Beneficiaries. “Based on data collected from CMS, annual spending on insulin has increased by billions of dollars over the last decade. Between 2010 and 2018, Medicare Part D spent $78.4 billion on insulin, prior to rebates, the majority of which was spent on Lantus ($27.4 billion), Novolog ($16.5 billion), Humalog ($12.3 billion), and Levemir ($11 billion). The growth of CMS’s pre-rebate spending on insulin also significantly outstripped the growth rate of beneficiaries utilizing insulin from 2010 to 2018. For instance, the number of Part D beneficiaries using insulin increased 51%, from over 2.1 million in 2010 to approximately 3.2 million in 2017, whereas spending on insulin prior to rebates increased more than 470%, from over $3 billion in 2010 to roughly $14.3 billion in 2018.” (Staff Report, “Insulin: Examining The Factors Driving The Rising Cost Of A Century Old Drug,” United States Senate Finance Committee, 1/14/21)
- Insulin R&D Spending Was A Fraction Of Manufacturers’ Revenue And Sales And Marketing Expenses. “Eli Lilly reported spending $395 million on R&D costs for Humalog, Humulin, and Basaglar between 2014 and 2018, during which time the company spent nearly $1.5 billion on sales and marketing expenses for its insulins. These three drugs generated $22.4 billion in revenue during that period. Similarly, Sanofi reported net sales of nearly €31 billion (approximately $37 billion based on current currency conversion rates)5 between 2014 and 2018 for its five insulin products, during which time the company reported spending $902 million on insulin R&D. Novo Nordisk failed to provide requested R&D spending information to the Committee.” (Staff Report, “Insulin: Examining The Factors Driving The Rising Cost Of A Century Old Drug,” United States Senate Finance Committee, 1/14/21)
Read more on Big Pharma’s role in increasing insulin prices HERE.
Read more on bipartisan, market-based solutions to hold Big Pharma accountable HERE.