A subcommittee of the House Energy and Commerce Committee heard testimony earlier this month on the human toll of rising insulin costs as a case study to better understand the impact on patients on prescription pricing overall. According to Rep. Brett Guthrie (R-KY 2nd District), “The prescription drug supply chain is complex, and it lacks transparency. There is limited public information around drug prices due to a lack of transparency around rebates and other price concessions.” The Kaiser Family Foundation recently reported that total Medicare Part D spending on insulin increased by 840% between 2007 and 2017, with no generics available and Eli Lilly, Novo Nordisk, and Sanofi dominating the market. In Minnesota, Attorney General Lori Swanson sued the three. While common wisdom (and massive advertising dollars spent by the Big Pharma lobby) justify high prices as attributable to the cost of R&D, rising insulin costs—which have been averaging 10 percent annually—may go a long way toward putting that argument to bed.
In the midst of an opioid crisis—and where substance abuse is in the headlines nearly every day—treating patients’ pain is a considerable challenge. In the case of cancer patients, for example, opioids remain the go-to, but there are additional approaches available, including drug therapies that change the mind’s perception of pain or those that block the pain signal from traveling to the brain. Researchers are also exploring gene therapies and approaches that juice the feel-good chemicals in the body.