U.S. Senator Tina Smith Announces Bold Legislation to Bring Down Price of Insulin, Hold Manufacturers Accountable

MINNEAPOLIS, M.N. [06/21/19]—Today, U.S. Senator Tina Smith (D-Minn.)—joined by Minnesotan Nicole Smith-Holt who tragically lost her son, Alec, when the high price of insulin forced him to ration his supply—announced plans to introduce legislation to hold insulin manufacturers accountable for excessive increases in the price of life-sustaining insulin.

Sen. Smith, a member of the Senate Health Committee, made her announcement at a Minneapolis community health center, where she met with Minnesotans struggling to afford skyrocketing insulin prices, including advocates Lija Greenseid and Quinn Nystrom. Sen. Smith said her new bill will be introduced next week in remembrance of the anniversary of Alec Smith’s passing. Sen. Smith’s Emergency Access to Insulin Act would provide emergency access to insulin for people in Minnesota and across the country who can’t afford the skyrocketing price of the drug that they need to stay alive.

“Thousands of people are rationing their insulin so they can afford it. And sometimes, they are paying with their lives like Alec Smith. While I support long-term solutions to bring down prices, no one should have to suffer Alec’s fate,” said Sen. Smith. “For over a year, I have worked with Alec’s mom Nicole, and others in Washington and Minnesota to develop a legislative solution to address this national emergency. Next week, on the anniversary of Alec’s tragic death, I’ll be introducing a bill that will allow states to set up a program to provide insulin on an emergency basis, put insulin manufacturers on the hook by requiring them to foot the bill for these programs, hold these manufacturers accountable for gouging the price of insulin, and promote market competition to drive down the price of insulin.”

Sen. Smith continued by saying, “This bill holds the right people accountable. To the greedy practice of wielding market power to continually increase prices and make billions off a drug that has been around for nearly a century, this bill says—no more. This is about providing Minnesotans and Americans with the insulin they need to survive.”

Sen. Smith said that approximately 30 million Americans have diabetes, including 7.5 million who require insulin for survival. Insulin has become increasingly unaffordable for patients, with the average price of insulin almost doubling between 2012 and 2016. The United States has just three insulin manufacturers. 

Sen. Smith said her bill, the Emergency Access to Insulin Act, would:

•    Establish State Insulin Assistance Programs (SIAPs) by providing federal grants so states can set up SIAPs, which would provide a short-term insulin supply for uninsured and underinsured patients and help patients identify state, federal, and private options to improve insulin affordability long-term;
•    Ensure insulin manufacturers have skin in the game and take part in ensuring Minnesotans and Americans can access the insulin they need by holding manufacturers accountable to fund SIAPs;
•    Penalize insulin manufacturers for their history of excessive insulin price spikes, and for future increases in insulin prices beyond inflation; and
•    Promote insulin market competition by reducing exclusivity periods for insulin and other biologics from 12 years to 7 years to bring “generic” or biosimilar insulin to market faster.

You can access a summary of the legislation here.

Sen. Smith has made bringing down the high cost of prescription drugs a top priority, and Minnesotan Nicole Smith-Holt has long been a partner in that fight. Last year, Sen. Smith invited Smith-Holt to take part in a hearing in Washington, D.C. titled “America Speaks Out: The Urgent Need to Tackle Health Care Costs and Prescription Drug Prices” because Sen. Smith believes it’s important for her colleagues to hear directly from Minnesotans.

Last month, a number of measures championed by Sen. Smith were included in a bipartisan package to address the rising cost of health care released by the Senate Health Committee—on which she serves—including her efforts to help bring lower-cost insulin and generic drugs to market. Both her bipartisan Protecting Access to Biosimilars Act and the Ensuring Innovation Act were added to the package. 

And just this month, Sen. Smith introduced comprehensive legislation to hold large pharmaceutical companies accountable for high prices and bring down costs for Americans. Her Affordable Medications Act is a comprehensive set of reforms that would promote transparency by requiring pharmaceutical companies to disclose just how much money is going toward research and development, as well as marketing and pay for executives. The bill would also end the restriction that prevents the federal Medicare program from using its buying power to negotiate lower drug prices for its beneficiaries, and curb drug company monopoly practices that keep prices high and prevent less expensive generics from coming to the market.