THEY SAID IT! Lawmakers Blast Insulin Price Hikes, Call For Drug Price Action And Question The Rebate Rule

Apr 3, 2019

On Tuesday, the U.S. House Committee on Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations held a hearing to discuss with expert witnesses the “Human Impact Of Rising Insulin Costs.”  Members of the subcommittee shared harrowing stories of constituents or loved ones suffering from rising insulin prices and many members expressed their eagerness to address this issue in a bipartisan fashion with patients’ welfare being the top priority:

Representative Diana DeGette (D-CO), U.S House Energy & Commerce Oversight & Investigations Subcommittee Chairwoman: “Friday, at home in Denver, I had a listening session … one of the people who came was a woman named Sierra.  She’s been struggling for the past year and half to pay for her insulin.  She took three jobs.  She made other adjustments in her life in order to cut costs in her personal life, selling her car and living with relatives.  She’s still paying out-of-pocket over $700 a month for insulin.  She’s living day to day, bottle to bottle.  She told me she went to the emergency room four times … and they gave her one bottle of insulin and she said ‘that lasted me two weeks’ … You can see that the urgency we all see about insulin pricing is bipartisan.  I mean, Mr. Guthrie and I have worked hand in hand throughout this process.  Usually the minority gets a witness and we agreed all the witnesses are the majority and the minority witnesses today … We are committed to fixing this, so I want to let all of you know this and everybody else who’s listening.  We are committed to a bipartisan solution.”

Representative Brett Guthrie (R-KY), U.S House Energy & Commerce Oversight & Investigations Subcommittee Ranking Member: “We are working together to try to get to the bottom of what’s happening in insulin prices … The list price of insulin has increased substantially over the past decade, putting this life-saving drug out of reach for too many Americans … Even if a patient has insurance, increasing list prices oftentimes directly harms patients by increasing their out-of-pocket costs.”

Representative Frank Pallone (D-NJ), U.S House Energy & Commerce Committee Chairman: “American families are struggling from the ongoing and staggering price-hikes of insulin.  We have all heard the stories of people with diabetes who have gone to extreme measures to obtain the insulin they need, as well as those who have died because they could not afford the lifesaving drug … No one should suffer because the high price of insulin puts it out of reach, yet that is exactly what is happening … We must find workable solutions to support the development of high quality drugs and insulin innovations, while also ensuring that no one living with diabetes is ever forced to put their lives at risk … We know that insulin manufacturers set the list price of their drugs and may engage in practices that prevent the introduction of generics.”

Representative Greg Walden (R-OR), U.S House Energy & Commerce Committee Ranking Member: “My grandfather suffered from diabetes, a long time ago, and I remember as a little kid, he lost both legs to gangrene.  My cousin has dealt with diabetes her entire life.  So, this is really important stuff, and I know [Chairman DeGette’s] family has issues and we have to get to the bottom of this because this is a life-long disease that effects millions of Americans … We need to continue to promote innovation, but we have to balance it with affordability and that means competition.”

Representative Janice Schakowsky (D-IL): “The three pharmaceutical companies who dominate the global insulin market have raised their prices in lockstep over the past several years.  When Elli Lilly introduced its Humalog brand of insulin in 1996, the list price of a 10 mm vial was $21, and now its $275 per vial … and when Sanofi insulin brand debuted in 2001, it was $35 a vial, now its $250.  And when Novo Nordisk’s insulin drug Novolog was introduced in 2001, it was $45, and now its $289.  And though there is zero transparency into the business practices of these companies, I know none of them can logically attribute these price hikes to increases in manufacturing costs, for example, which we’ve heard.  And not when insulin has been around since 1921 and improved human analog of insulin has been around since 1996.”

Representative Buddy Carter (R-GA): “This is a very important hearing, I can attest.  I practiced pharmacy for over 30 years and I’ve dispensed a lot of insulin over those years and I’ve seen what has happened with the price of that and it is concerning.”

Representative Raul Ruiz (D-CA): “As the prices of insulin have gone up, many patients have taken to cutting back on the amount of insulin they take or even skipping doses entirely to stretch their insulin as long as possible.  When I was leading a health care initiative we had a community forum … and afterwards I saw an elderly woman dig through the trash.  And I went over.  I was curious.  I asked her what she was doing, and she told me she was collecting aluminum cans because she can’t afford her insulin and she was trying to … collect cans for the rebate so she could pay for her insulin and she said, but ‘don’t worry doctor,’ she told me don’t worry, ‘I only take half a dose so it can last’ … Rationing insulin carries enormous risk.”

Concerns about the administration’s proposed Rebate Rule that would hike Medicare premiums 25 percent, boost taxpayer spending by nearly $200 billion and hand Big Pharma a $100 billion bailout – while doing little to guarantee lower drug prices – were also raised by lawmakers of both parties:

 Representative Michael Burgess (R-TX): “I have had some questions about the Rebate Rule that the administration has proposed, but I promised Secretary Azar that I’ll keep an open mind about that and I have.  And several of you [witnesses] have brought up the Rebate Rule this morning, and I hope that perhaps at some point in the future we can involve the agency, either in this committee or in the Health Subcommittee, to have them discuss the pros and cons of the Rebate Rule.”

Representative Frank Pallone (D-NJ): “I have concerns with the recent proposed rule that would eliminate rebates in Medicare Part D and Medicaid.  There’s nothing in this proposed rule that would actually require drug manufacturers to reduce their list prices.”

The Campaign for Sustainable Rx Pricing (CSRxP) is encouraged to see lawmakers from both parties shining a light on the impact of rising insulin prices and encourages Members of Congress, of both parties, to support common-sense, market-based solutions to lower prescription drug prices.