Price has pushed insulin out of reach
The cost of insulin has increased over 250 percent since 2007, according to the American Diabetes Association, and patients are looking to lawmakers for relief.
Dr. Vikas Saini, president of the Lown Institute and cochairman of the Right Care Alliance both based in Brookline, said a handful of drug companies create an “iron triangle” with insurance companies and pharmacy benefit managers that has led to skyrocketing insulin prices.
“It’s a broken market. It’s really not working,” said Saini, “They clearly have been using this as a cash cow, while they say we need this to do research and innovation.”
Saini said that insulin prices have increased over 1,000 percent in the last 25 years due in part to rising list prices from manufacturers and a markup over the cost of production.
Saini said that although there have not been many new innovations in insulin in the last two decades, drug companies will slightly tweak insulin molecules to get new patents.
“There’s been a lot of mutual back scratching that goes on and a lot of gamesmanship,” said Saini.
He said the situation has reached a breaking point.
“It can’t go on, young people are dying it’s that bad,” Saini said. “We can’t allow this to go on.”
At Cambridge-based Sanofi, one of the nation’s producers of insulin, spokesman Nicolas Kressmann said some insulin drugs like Lantus actually have a lower net price today than in the past.
“It is our belief that growing rebates and declining net prices should result in lower out-of-pocket drug costs for patients. Unfortunately, under the current system, this is generally not the case and these savings are not consistently passed through to patients in the form of lower co-pays or coinsurance,” said Kressmann.
He advised patients to consider the Sanofi Patient Connection Program and the Valyou Savings Program, both aimed at helping patients struggling with drug costs.
Saini is looking toward lawmakers for regulatory relief, saying that bulk purchasing, negotiation and distribution on a state level could offer a viable solution. Patients and advocates are hopeful, with three new bills filed in Congress in the last month to regulate prices.
Warren Kaplan, assistant professor at the Boston Uni- versity School of Public Health, is also seeking a political solution to rising insulin prices. He said international agreements between foreign countries would create more competition in the market and lower prices.
“Drug companies are not going to like it, you’ll get some push-back from the pharma industry about losing profits,” said Kaplan. He also pointed to a lack of transparency in the market, which lawmakers could also fix.
“Someone has to shine a light in this black hole,” said Kaplan.
Kaplan said insulin is expensive to produce, but much of the high costs are “getting tied up in marketing and advertising, not research.”
An insulin pump is refilled with insulin. Below, a man walks past Sanofi headquarters in Paris.