Sanders, Cummings Ask Justice Department to Investigate Insulin Prices

Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders and Maryland Representative Elijah Cummings have sent a letter asking the U.S. Department of Justice and the U.S. Federal Trade Commission to open an investigation into whether the three major insulin-manufacturers “have colluded or engaged in anticompetitive behavior in setting their drug prices.”

On November 3rd, the two lawmakers sent a letter to U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch and FTC Chairwoman Edith Ramirez, according to a FiercePharma report. In it, they ask the two agencies to examine the recent pricing history of insulin brands produced by Eli Lilly and Co., Sanofi, and Novo Nordisk. Citing recent reports by the Washington Post and Bloomberg, the lawmakers said there was evidence the drugmakers raised insulin prices for popular brands in unison. In 2015, Insulin Nation reported that this lockstep pricing pattern was detected by panelists at the American Diabetes Association’s Scientific Sessions.

Read: Price-fixing alleged in lawsuit against insulin makers.

“The original insulin patent expired 75 years ago,” write the lawmakers. “Instead of falling prices, as one might expect after decades of competition, three drugmakers who make different versions of insulin have continuously raised prices on this life-saving medication. In numerous instances price increases have reportedly mirrored one another precisely.”

This would not be the first time that insulin-makers were investigated for alleged price-fixing. Senator Sanders and Representative Cummings say insulin makers were fined by the Mexican government in 2010 for antitrust behavior – in this case, by taking turns bidding for government contracts. In the U.S. three insulin companies also were charged with criminal price-fixing in 1941.

According to the FiercePharma report, the three drugmakers pushed back against the accusations in email statements to reporter Eric Palmer. Lilly representatives blamed the spike in insulin prices to the “complex reimbursement methods” in the health insurance industry.

Read more: Understanding insulin sticker-shock. 

This request comes at a volatile time in national politics, with less than a week to go before a national election. Attorney General Lynch and Chairwoman Ramirez both may be replaced by the incoming president in 2017, meaning this probe may or may not get traction in the next administration. However, there often is more of a chance for bipartisan legislative action in the period immediately after the election and before the inauguration of the next president.

We will closely follow this story in the coming months.

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Craig Idlebrook is a past editor for Insulin Nation, Type 2 Nation, and Información Sobre Diabetes. He is now the community engagement and content manager for T1D Exchange.

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