WASHINGTON — The heads of the influential Senate Finance Committee on Friday launched an investigation into the high price of insulin, demanding answers from the three manufacturers that control most of the global market for the drug: Eli Lilly, Sanofi and Novo Nordisk.
The bipartisan investigation is the latest sign of Washington’s growing interest in the rising price of prescription drugs and highlights in particular the increasingly central role the Finance Committee is playing in that debate under its new chairman, Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa). The same panel will hear from seven drug industry CEOs — including Sanofi’s CEO Olivier Brandicourt — about the rising cost of drugs Tuesday.
“We are concerned that the substantial increases in the price of insulin over the past several years will continue their upward drive and pose increasingly severe hardships not only on patients that require access to the drug in order to stay alive but also on the taxpayer,” Grassley and ranking member Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) wrote in three letters sent to the insulin makers.
The announcement is also the latest in a spate of bad news for insulin makers, who are increasingly being singled out for their pricing tactics. The House Oversight Committee has also launched an investigation into insulin makers and the chair of the House Energy and Commerce oversight subcommittee, Rep. Diana DeGette (D-Colo.), has also pledged to bring executives from the same three companies before her committee.
Grassley and Wyden are seeking a slew of information from the companies, including data that is typically closely guarded, namely how the companies price their insulin products, the rebates they provide middlemen in exchange for placement on insurance formularies, and how much they contribute to diabetes patient groups and charities.
One question, however, stands out above the rest. The lawmakers also ask insulin makers for their position on the Trump administration’s proposal to eliminate drug rebates: “Please describe how it will impact the pricing of your insulin products,” the lawmakers write.
Insulin makers have long claimed that they must continue to hike their list prices in order to satisfy drug industry middlemen, who typically profit off the spread between the list price and the negotiated price. Neither Wyden nor Grassley hast taken a clear position on the administration’s proposal to eliminate certain rebates entirely.