WASHINGTON, D.C. [06/27/19]—Today, U.S. Senators Tina Smith (D-Minn.) and Kevin Cramer (R-N.D.) introduced bipartisan legislation to bring down the cost of insulin and to hold insulin manufacturers accountable for excessive increases in the price of the life-sustaining medicine.
The bill—announced last week in Minneapolis and introduced today in remembrance of Minnesotan Alec Smith, who tragically passed away two years ago today after rationing his insulin—would provide emergency access to insulin for people in Minnesota, North Dakota, 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, a member of the Senate Health Committee. “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. Today, on the anniversary of Alec’s tragic death, I introduced 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.”
“While 50,000 North Dakotans with diabetes rely on insulin as a life source, the cost of this life supporting biologic has increased astronomically and left many unable to afford it,” said Sen. Cramer. “I am pleased to join Senator Smith in proposing a short-term emergency access solution to assist those in need as we pursue a more permanent fix to this problem.”
“The Emergency Access to Insulin Act is a ‘no-brainer’ piece of legislation. It saves lives, makes a dent in a massive injustice, and will help millions of families sleep at night. Thanks to Senator Smith and her work with Senator Cramer, this bill should get bipartisan support from both Houses and get to the President’s desk ASAP,” said Andy Slavitt, former head of the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) under President Barack Obama.
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.
The Emergency Access to Insulin Act would:
• Establish State Insulin Assistance Programs (SIAPs) by providing federal grants to states, territories, and tribes to deliver 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.
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. Smith-Holt tragically lost her son, Alec, when the high price of insulin forced him to ration his supply. 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, which was passed out of the Committee just yesterday.
Also 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.