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Advocates Urge Schumer to “Put an End to Insulin Profiteering” in Health Package

The groups are urging Schumer to ensure that patients across the board can afford insulin.

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer speaks to reporters outside the U.S. Capitol upon returning from the White House on May 16, 2023, in Washington, D.C.

A coalition of 40 advocacy groups is urging Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-New York) to adopt a strong set of provisions to lower insulin prices and “put an end to insulin profiteering” in an upcoming health package.

The groups, led by watchdog Public Citizen and diabetes advocacy group T1International, sent a letter to Schumer on Monday saying that, while some progress has been made over the past year on insulin prices, lawmakers must take bolder actions to ensure that patients across the board are able to access the life-saving drug.

The letter comes ahead of a health package that Schumer is working on with Senate Health Committee Chairman Bernie Sanders (I-Vermont) to boost community health centers and lower the cost of prescription drugs. This could include one of two competing bipartisan bills addressing insulin prices. In a “Dear Colleague” letter sent on Sunday, Schumer said that the Senate will be tackling health issues now that it’s back in session.

“While the reforms advanced by the 117th Congress and concessions by insulin manufacturers can support insulin access for some patients with diabetes, they do not go far enough,” the letter says.

In order to achieve a higher standard of equity in insulin access, the groups wrote, the legislation must ensure that the drug is affordable for both uninsured people and people with insurance — unlike with current plans by the government to cap the price of the drug at $35 a month under Medicare. Several top insulin manufacturers have also pledged to cap the out-of-pocket cost of their insulin products at $35 a month, but uninsured people would have to jump through hoops to access that price.

The groups also urged Schumer and Sanders to take aim at pharmaceutical companies and the insulin market directly, detailing how the pharmaceutical industry raises prices of drugs each year, often to absurd degrees, to profiteer off of patients’ health. They say that any legislation put forth by the Senate must address pharmaceutical industry middlemen and anticompetitive schemes that allow the industry to keep drug prices high, unabated.

“Abusive pricing of insulin, which the very same corporations who sell insulin here sell for a fraction of the price in other wealthy countries, has led to immense profits for these corporations at the cost of preventable suffering and death of people who need insulin, in addition to billions of dollars drained from government coffers and consumers’ bank accounts,” the groups wrote.

“Any insulin legislation that fails to lower the list prices charged by insulin manufacturers would fail to hold these corporations accountable, in effect rewarding them for decades of price gouging,” they continued.

Earlier this year, seemingly due in part to pressure from Sanders and activists, three major insulin makers announced that they would be capping the out-of-pocket prices for their insulin products, bringing prices down from hundreds of dollars a month to closer to what the companies listed as the prices for the drugs when they were originally put on the market decades ago. But these changes were only made after massive public pressure, and analyses showed at the time that the companies likely still ended up benefiting from the announcements with a jump in stock prices.

Meanwhile, people continue to die due to insulin rationing caused by high prices; one 2022 study found that an estimated 1.3 million people rationed insulin in 2021, a practice that is extremely dangerous but that many Americans are forced to partake in in order to afford the drug.

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