Insulin prices are soaring, patients are dying and pharma is fighting price caps

The drug industry has fought some state efforts to make insulin more affordable to people who are on Medicare or lack health insurance.

8/15/2020 6:34:00 PM

Spurred by stories that diabetics are spending thousands of dollars a year on insulin, or even dying trying to ration it, lawmakers in at least 36 states are trying to tackle the issue. But the drug industry is pushing back.

The drug industry has fought some state efforts to make insulin more affordable to people who are on Medicare or lack health insurance.

and worked to weaken one that had already passed in Colorado. In May 2019, Colorado became the first state to cap insulin copays for diabetics with private insurance. “The situation had become so dire that we needed to pass something right away that would have an immediate impact on the price of insulin,” state Rep. Dylan Roberts, a Democrat and the bill’s author, said in an interview. The law was supposed to set a $100 copay limit on a diabetic’s entire monthly insulin prescription.

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But after the bill was signed into law, the insurance industryconvincedColorado regulators that the cap should apply to each brand of insulin, even though some diabetics rely on multiple brands in a month. The Colorado Legislature hoped to close the loophole before COVID-19 cut the legislative session short."I wish they would have let us know that they were going to lobby the Division of Insurance for a loophole,” Roberts said.

Nine other states — Illinois, Maine, New Hampshire, New Mexico, New York, Utah, Virginia, Washington and West Virginia — got similar copay limits signed into law. In Utah, the copay cap that passed in April will also benefit the uninsured through a state-funded program that provides a 60 percent discount.

“The manufacturers weren't excited about it. But they said, ‘Hey, we're a whole lot more OK with what you're doing than what they're doing in other states,’” Utah state Rep. Norm Thurston, a Republican, said in an interview. “And I was like, OK, that tells me maybe I need to push harder. And they said, ‘No, no, no, you're doing fine.’”

Lobbying, then lawsuitsFacing off against industry lobbyists at legislative hearings, volunteer advocates share personal stories about the crushing costs of insulin. While both Type 1 and Type 2 diabetics rely on prescription insulin, those with Type 1, which is an auto-immune disorder, are dependent on the medication for survival and thus more vulnerable to high prices.

In numerous hearings in 2018 and 2019, Nicole Smith-Holt and James Holt told Minnesota legislators how their son Alec Smith died in 2017 at 26, trying to pay for his insulin out-of-pocket while working at a restaurant job that didn’t offer health insurance. The couple was adamant about the need to help all patients, not just those with insurance. Democrats in the state House proposed that drug companies fund discount insulin for the uninsured.

PhRMA, the leading drug industry group, argued that the industry was already taking voluntary steps to help diabetics, including supporting rebate and discount programs and advocating for insurers to limit copays.In 2019, Novo Nordisk, which hadn't done any lobbying in Minnesota the year before, spent $120,000, state records show. PhRMA spent $430,000 on lobbying in 2019, state records show, about double the usual amount. Disclosure statements don’t indicate how much was spent to fight the insulin bill.

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Reached by telephone, a lobbyist hired by Novo Nordisk that year declined to comment. Novo Nordisk spokesman Ken Inchausti said: “Our engagement in Minnesota was to ensure stakeholders were educated on how our existing national insulin affordability programs are robust.”

Ultimately, the Alec Smith Insulin Affordability Act, signed into law in April, requires Minnesota pharmacies to provide insulin at a steep discount to the uninsured and others who qualify. The law requires drug companies to provide free insulin to pharmacists who offer the discount.

But just hours before Alec’s law was to go into effect, on July 1, PhRMA sued,claimingthe law amounted to an unconstitutional taking of private property. The Minnesota law will “order pharmaceutical manufacturers to give insulin to state residents, on the state’s prescribed terms,” the suit argues, “at no charge to the recipients and without compensating the manufacturers in any way.”

Read more: MSNBC »

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Yeah...capitalism is much better than socialism Trump already took care of this problem. Yep, big pharma is definitely a problem in the US. Yeah,as my drug prices under trump went up,and it’s harder to get them by mail. During this pandemic, I have lost my job, my partner and about to lose my house. I have two children and no income. If you can help, my cash app is $athastings07. Thank you!

How much does insulin really cost to produce? That's the number we need to know. Disgusting. You cannot get away from BigPharma on the news shows, tho. With the sound muted, they make being SICK look like the MOST FUN a person can HAVE, yo. In Canada you can get insulin for $35 a vial. In the US it costs about $320 for a vial.

Start by outlawing corn syrup!

How the pharma lobby is co-opting state efforts to cap the price of insulinSpurred by stories that diabetics are spending thousands of dollars a year on insulin, or even dying trying to ration it, lawmakers in at least 36 states are trying to tackle the issue. But the drug industry is pushing back. I wish they lowered health insurance costs. I know someone who falls between the cracks. She was taken off Gov't insurance because she makes too much, but can't afford to buy insurance because her gov't rent is very high. So she has to do without. Well a good start would be putting big pharma on the block. No worries, Trump has got ut s covered.

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