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State Sues Over Insulin Prices

State Sues Over Insulin Prices

Soaring prices have prompted Mississippi to sue the three drug makers that control the U.S. insulin market — Eli Lilly, Novo Nordisk and Sanofi-Aventis — and the pharmacy benefit managers, such as CVS Caremark, that negotiate prices with those companies.

Mississippi is the first state to initiate such a suit.

“As the mother of a diabetic, I know the emotional, physical, and financial toll the unacceptable price of insulin has on families,” Mississippi Attorney General Lynn Fitch says. “I filed this lawsuit on behalf of every Mississippian who relies on this medication to survive. Even though the cost of producing these drugs has decreased, these companies have raised the reported prices of their diabetes drugs up to 1,000%, in lockstep, and down to the decimal point within a few days of each other. They are making record profits at the expense of diabetics and Mississippi taxpayers, who have been overcharged millions of dollars a year for outrageously inflated diabetes medications.”

In 1921, scientists in Canada discovered insulin. After winning the Nobel Prize, they sold the patent for $1 each, saying the hormone for battling diabetes “belongs to the world.” The list price for a vial of insulin has skyrocketed in the U.S. from 75 cents to $250 in a little more than a half-century. Now, many Americans are crossing the border to buy the life-saving medicine for themselves and their families, or ordering it online, because insulin can be up to 10 times cheaper there.

Fitch estimates the price for the treatment of Mississippians suffering from diabetes at $3.5 billion a year. Nationally, the direct medical costs top $237 billion.

The Mississippi lawsuit, which seeks punitive damages, claims drug makers have been hiking insulin prices and then paying a huge chunk of that to pharmacy business managers in exchange for placing their drugs on lists from which patients pick their medications.

Novo Nordisk says the allegations are false: “We are aware of the complaint and disagree with the allegations made against the company. We are vigorously defending ourselves in these matters. We have a longstanding commitment to supporting patients’ access to our medicines.”

Denying the allegations, Lilly officials claim their company has taken "numerous steps to ensure people living with diabetes can fill a monthly prescription of Lilly insulin at an affordable cost.”

CVS says the allegations are “are built on a false premise and completely without merit,” and places the blame for high insulin prices on pharmaceutical companies: “Nothing in our agreements prevents drug manufacturers from lowering the prices of their insulin products, and we would welcome such an action. Allegations that Caremark plays any role in determining the prices charged by manufacturers for their products are false, and we intend to vigorously defend against this baseless suit.”

Eli Lilly, Novo Nordisk and Sanofi all provide assistance programs to aid patients who can’t afford insulin.

EDITOR'S NOTE: Excerpted from Mississippi Today report.


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