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Sen. Chuck Grassley Questions Insulin Pricing Efforts

By Jack O'Brien  
   April 05, 2019

In a letter released Wednesday, the Senate Finance Committee chairman said decreasing costs for patients should apply to other high-priced drugs.

Following an announcement this week that Cigna's Express Scripts will cap the out-of-pocket price of insulin, Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, asked why this same approach couldn't happen more frequently for other high-priced drugs.

As part of a letter issued Wednesday, the Senate Finance Committee chairman applauded Cigna's announcement that it would allow clients to limit the out-of-pocket costs associated with insulin at $25 per month, but he asked why the move didn't occur sooner.

"It shouldn’t take bad press and congressional scrutiny to get health plans, their pharmacy benefit managers and pharmaceutical companies to arrive at a fair price for a drug that’s been on the market for nearly a century," Grassley wrote. "It’s also unclear why this is only being done to decrease what patients pay for insulin."

Grassley added that other high-priced prescription drugs should be considered for a similar price policy and that if patients covered under private insurance plans could receive such a cap on insulin prices, the same policy should apply for Medicare and Medicaid enrollees.

Grassley's letter comes less than a week before the Senate Finance Committee hosts executives from five leading PBMs as part of its ongoing efforts to address rising prices in healthcare. 

Related: Sen. Chuck Grassley Backs Drug Importation Bill

Grassley called on pharmaceutical companies, health plans, and PBMs to "stop pointing fingers" on the high cost of prescription drugs, adding that the insulin cap "shouldn’t be a one-time thing."

During the same week as Cigna's announcement and Grassley's subsequent letter, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) announced a plan to curb insulin price hikes.

Outgoing FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb, MD, indicated that the agency will transition insulin into "an abbreviated approval pathway for licensure as biologics," expanding the competitive market for biosimilars.

"Once an interchangeable insulin product is approved and available on the market, it can then be substituted for the reference product at the pharmacy, potentially leading to increased access and lower costs for patients," Gottlieb said in a statement.

The FDA will also host a public hearing on May 13 to discuss the biosimilars plan as well as insulin affordability.

Related: FDA Moves to Curb Insulin Price Hikes as Pressure on Manufacturers Mounts

Jack O'Brien is the finance editor at HealthLeaders, a Simplify Compliance brand.

Photo credit: Photo credit: Former U.S. Senator and actor of Law & Order, Fred Thompson shaking hands with Miss Pork and U.S. Senator from Iowa, Chuck Grassley at Iowa State Fair, August 17, 2007, Des Moines, Iowa - Image / Editorial credit: Joseph Sohm / Shutterstock.

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