The system is broken,” U.S. Rep. Diana DeGette (D-CO), chair of the House oversight panel that’s currently investigating the rising cost of insulin, told a panel of drug makers and pharmacy executives who were summoned to appear before Congress on April 10th to explain why the cost of the life-saving drug has continued to rise in recent years.
“I think everyone can agree that the system is broken, and the people who are suffering are the people who need insulin every second, of every minute, of every day, or they will die,” DeGette said in her closing remarks at a hearing on Capitol Hill on April 10.
DeGette, who serves not only as chair of the House Energy and Commerce Oversight and Investigations panel but also as chair of the Congressional Diabetes Caucus, blasted the drug makers for touting new plans to lower the cost of insulin for some, but not all, patients in the weeks leading up to the hearing.
“It’s a smoke and mirror system,” DeGette said, “where we are continually increasing the list price of insulin in order to try to do negotiations to get the price of insulin down.”
Last week’s hearing marked the first time that executives from all three U.S. manufactures of insulin – Eli Lilly, Novo Nordisk and Sanofi – and the nation’s three largest pharmacy benefit managers – Express Script, CVS Health and Optum – were called to appear jointly before Congress.
“So, what we’re going to do is work with you to figure out how we can provide insulin to diabetics at a cost they can really afford. And we’re going to do that as quickly as we can. We’re prepared to talk to you now, or we’re prepared to bring you all back in July or September, because this is not optional. And it is going to happen.”
Rep. Diana DeGette
In March, drug-maker Eli Lily announced it would soon make a new generic version of its insulin available to patients for $137 a vial – roughly half the cost of its current brand-name version of the drug. Sanofi, likewise, announced that it too would make a new generic version of the drug available to consumers for more than $200 a bottle.
DeGette said both plans result in a drug that’s still too expensive for most consumers to afford.
“Let’s not kid ourselves that the generic equivalent of this is really any cheaper for that young woman in my district who doesn’t have insurance and who is desperately trying to find two bottles of insulin every month,” DeGette said, “that’s $400 for her.”
“When you say ‘nobody’s paying list price,’” DeGette said pointing to the executives appearing before her committee, “there are people who are paying list price. And the people who are paying list price are the people with high-deductible plans, people in the doughnut hole with Medicare Part D, and the people who are uninsured.”
“I know everybody here – the PBMs and the pharmaceutical companies – all have these efforts to give cheaper insulin to people like this,” DeGette continued. “But, I’m going to tell you: the lady I talked to in Denver had no idea how to get that [cheaper] insulin. It’s not a solution to the problem, it’s just a temporary band-aid.”
DeGette said the pharmaceutical companies made $323 billion in profits last year, while the pharmacy benefit managers made $23 billion in profits last year.
“Everybody’s making a profit,” DeGette said, “and the people who are really suffering here are the people who have to pay list price.”
“So, what we’re going to do is work with you to figure out how we can provide insulin to diabetics at a cost they can really afford,” DeGette told the company leaders who were present. “And we’re going to do that as quickly as we can. We’re prepared to talk to you now, or we’re prepared to bring you all back in July or September, because this is not optional. And it is going to happen.”
Video of Rep. DeGette’s 5-minute closing remarks to company executives is available here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=H6iUR-PpveU&feature=youtu.be.
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