"How Do You Sleep At Night?" Lawmaker Excoriates Big Pharma Over Insulin Prices

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"I don't know how you people sleep at night," Illinois Rep. Jan Schakowsky told a panel of pharmaceutical executives.

During a congressional hearing on Wednesday, lawmakers questioned pharmaceutical company executives about the rising price of insulin, according to CNN. This hearing, held by the House Committee on Energy and Commere’s Oversight and Investigation Subcommittee, was the second one this month to investigate how skyrocketing prices of insulin affect diabetes patients in the U.S.

Over 11 years, the average price of insulin tripled, rising from $4.34 per millimeter in 2002 to $12.92 per millimeter in 2013.

Representative Jan Schakowsky (D-IL.) said the prices for insulin are “curiously close” between companies” and “way too high.”

"I don't know how you people sleep at night," Schakowsky told the executives.

"We have the names of people who have died because they couldn't get their insulin," she said. "This is a commitment on the part of the Congress to get drug prices -- particularly life-saving life necessities -- to get those prices under control. ... Your days are numbered."

Some executives responded by asserting that the health care system is “broken,” including Doug Langa of Novo Nordisk and Kathleen Tregoning of Sanofi.

At the end of the hearing, lawmakers promised that the investigation would continue.

People who have diabetes need insulin because their bodies either do not produce it or do not use it in the proper way.

Before the hearing, pharmaceutical company Sanofi announced that they plan to reduce insulin prices to $99 a month for up to 10 boxes of pens.

"It is unacceptable to Sanofi that some people living with diabetes are struggling to pay for their insulin, so we have moved to act creatively and aggressively to help address affordability and access needs," Michelle Carnahan, head of North America Primary Care at Sanofi, said.

"By giving those who require both long-acting and/or mealtime insulins or use more than one box of pens or one vial per month access to their insulins for one flat price, we aim to help limit the burden on the individuals who have high out-of-pocket costs at the pharmacy counter," she continued.

U.S. Senate Finance Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley said this move was “a step in the right direction.”

"But like Cigna's announcement on insulin prices last week, this raises a lot of questions. Why was Sanofi charging so much more before this announcement? What took them so long to offer the price reduction?" he added. "It shouldn't take months of bad press, persistent public outcry and increasing congressional scrutiny to get a company to charge a fair price. That's not how a functioning marketplace works."

Last week, Cigna also announced that it will launch a program to cap out-of-pocket expenses at $25 for a 30-day-supply of insulin. Last year, patients paid $41.50 monthly out-of-pocket.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration also announced last week that it will bring competition to the insulin market as a way to drive down prices. Commissioner Dr. Scott Gottleib said the FDA would change the regulation of insulin to make sure that products are interchangeable with new types of insulin.

"Access to affordable insulin can be a matter of life and death for Americans with diabetes. Insulin is a critical hormone that regulates sugar metabolism," Gottlieb said.

"But access to this critical drug can be increasingly difficult for these Americans. Insulin list prices regularly increase by double digits annually," he said. "Driving down drug prices requires a comprehensive approach. But one impactful route is through competition. This is particularly true following the introductions of generics, especially when there are three or more generic competitors -- which has been shown to bring down prices more sharply than with only one or two generic competitors."

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