Bernie Sanders urges Sanofi, Novo Nordisk to be like Eli Lilly in reducing insulin prices

In slashing the cost of its insulin earlier this week by some 70%, Eli Lilly responded quickly to President Joe Biden’s State of the Union appeal to producers of diabetes medicines.

It also might have been a proactive measure, doing so before being ordered to by Congress.

But Lilly’s initiative wasn’t enough for relentless pharma industry adversary Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.). In separate letters to the world’s other two premier manufacturers of insulin, Sanofi and Novo Nordisk, Sanders has asked them to also reduce the “outrageous” price of insulin in the United States.

“I urge you to join Eli Lilly in substantially lowering the price your company charges for insulin and make certain that all Americans can purchase this lifesaving drug,” Sanders wrote. “I look forward to hearing from you about the steps you will take.”

In his letters, Sanders said that it costs $8 to manufacture a monthly supply of insulin, which diabetics use to regulate their blood sugar levels. He also says insulin goes for $12 in Canada and argues that people in the U.S. should not “be forced to pay $98 for a vial.”

Sanders, who heads up the Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee (HELP), has long championed the cause of lower insulin prices. In 2019, he caravanned diabetes patients from Detroit to Windsor, Ontario, to purchase insulin priced at approximately one-tenth of what it cost in the U.S.

Last year, Sanders and other pharma antagonists got a major win with passage of the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA), which contained several provisions to rein in drug prices. Among the measures was a $35 monthly cap on the out-of-pocket cost of insulin for Medicare patients.

In response to a request for comment, Novo Nordisk said that 63,000 patients in the U.S. received free insulin from the company last year and that 90% of U.S. patients with commercial or government health insurance pay $1.50 a day for Novo Nordisk insulin. The company also pointed to plans it offers to uninsured patients in need.

“Novo Nordisk will continue to listen and assess to help us understand emerging patient needs and focus on sustainable solutions in an evolving healthcare system,” the company said in a statement.

Sanofi also has improved access to its insulin. Last summer, the company said it would slash the price of its insulin to uninsured people in the U.S. from $99 per month to $35. The company didn't immediately respond to a request for comment on the Sanders letter.

On Wednesday, Lilly announced that it would reduce the price of unbranded insulin lispro injection to $25 a vial, starting on May 1. It also said it was cutting the price of its most commonly prescribed insulin Humalog by 70% in the fourth quarter of this year.

Lilly currently lists the cost of a five-pack of Humalog pens at $530.40 before discounts, while a vial of insulin runs for about $274.