WASHINGTON, D.C. [09/17/2019]—Today U.S. Senators Tina Smith (D-Minn.) and Kevin Cramer (R-N.D.) urged the U.S. Senate Finance Committee to hold a hearing on their bipartisan bill to address the skyrocketing price of insulin and help people with diabetes access the life-saving medication they need to survive.
The two lawmakers said that during the hearing they also hope to have pharmaceutical executives address Congress directly about high drug prices that are hurting many Americans.
Approximately 7.5 million Americans with diabetes rely on insulin every day to survive yet the average price of insulin almost doubled between 2012 and 2016—forcing some patients into the dangerous practice of rationing. And with just three insulin manufacturers in the United States, there is little incentive for these companies to lower their prices.
“The rising price of insulin has created an unsustainable situation for too many families,” wrote Sens. Smith and Cramer. “Congress must come together to provide immediate relief to those struggling to afford their prescription medications and ensure everyone has access to the medication they need to live full, healthy lives.”
In June 2019, Sens. Smith and Cramer introduced the Emergency Access to Insulin Act 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 in Minneapolis and introduced 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.
You can read full text of the letter here or by reading below:
September 17, 2019
The Honorable Chuck Grassley The Honorable Ron Wyden
Chairman Ranking Member
Senate Committee on Finance Senate Committee on Finance
United States Senate United States Senate
Washington, D.C. 20510 Washington, D.C. 20510
Dear Chairman Grassley and Ranking Member Wyden,
We write to request a Senate Finance Committee hearing on the bipartisan Emergency Access to Insulin Act to address the skyrocketing price of insulin and help people with diabetes access the life-saving medication they need to survive.
We are encouraged by the steps you have already taken to investigate the rising price of insulin and urge you to continue to address this issue by providing emergency relief to Americans struggling to afford their life-saving medication. As you know, approximately 30 million Americans have diabetes, including 7.5 million who require insulin for survival. For these individuals, the medication is not a choice: it’s a matter of survival.
Insulin is not a new drug. It was discovered in Canada back in 1921 and quickly became a lifesaver for people with diabetes around the world. The researchers who discovered it sold the patent for just $1. Yet today, many insulin-dependent Americans are forced to make the tough choice between buying insulin and buying groceries or paying their rent. Although insulin is widely available, it has become increasingly unaffordable for patients. The average price of insulin almost doubled between 2012 and 2016. And with just three insulin manufacturers in the United States – Eli Lilly, Sanofi, and Novo Nordisk – there is little incentive for these companies to lower their prices.
Alarmingly, the rising price of insulin has forced some patients into the dangerous practice of rationing. A recent study found that one in four diabetes patients admitted to cutting back on insulin use because of costs. This dangerous practice can lead to negative and sometimes fatal consequences. One tragic example is the death of Alec Raeshawn Smith, a 26-year-old restaurant manager from Minnesota who died in 2017 from diabetic ketoacidosis because he could not afford to buy more insulin before his next paycheck. More recently, another Minnesota family lost their 21-year-old son, Jesimya (Jesy) David Scherer-Radcliff, this past June due to insulin rationing. This is unacceptable. No one should lose their life because the medicine they depend on is too expensive.
Additionally, the unaffordability of insulin in America has required North Dakota and Minnesota families to travel north to Canada or south to Mexico in order to obtain insulin for themselves and their children., For example, one North Dakota family pays $1,500 for their daughter’s insulin prescription at home. If they travel to Canada, they get the same amount of insulin for nearly a third of the price.
Given the immediate impact high insulin costs have on the health and well-being of people who need insulin to survive, we believe Congress must take swift action to provide emergency assistance to individuals struggling to afford their prescription medication. Thus, we urge you to hold a full Senate Finance Committee hearing to consider the Emergency Access to Insulin Act. This bill would expand access to life-sustaining insulin to those who cannot afford it, hold manufacturers accountable for excessive insulin price increases and promote market competition to drive down insulin prices.
The rising price of insulin has created an unsustainable situation for too many families. Congress must come together to provide immediate relief to those struggling to afford their prescription medications and ensure everyone has access to the medication they need to live full, healthy lives.
Thank you for considering our request. If you have any questions or would like to discuss further, please do not hesitate to reach out to Kripa Sreepada with Senator Smith at Kripa_Sreepada@smith.senate.gov or 4-1025 or Bree Vculek with Senator Cramer at Bree_Vculek@cramer.senate.gov or 4-0295.
Tina Smith Kevin Cramer
United States Senator United States Senator
 William T. Cefalu, Daniel E. Dawes et. al, “Insulin Access and Affordability Working Group: Conclusions and Recommendations,” Diabetes Care, 41, no.6 (June 2018): 1299-1311. https://doi.org/10.2337/dci18-0019
2 John Hargraves and Amanda Frost, “Price of insulin prescription doubled between 2012 and 2016,” Health Cost Institute (blog), November 29, 2017, https://www.healthcostinstitute.org/blog/entry/price-of-insulin-prescription-doubled-between-2012-and-2016
3 Elisabeth Rosenthal, MD, “When High Prices Mean Needless Death” JAMA Internal Medicine 170, no. 1 (January 2019): 114. https://jamanetwork.com/journals/jamainternalmedicine/article-abstract/2717498
4 Bram Sable-Smith, “Insulin’s Steep Price Leads To Deadly Rationing,” Kaiser Health News, September 7, 2018, https://khn.org/news/insulins-high-cost-leads-to-deadly-rationing/
5 Tiffany Stanley, “Life, Death and Insulin,” The Washington Post Magazine, January 7, 2019, https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/magazine/wp/2019/01/07/feature/insulin-is-a-lifesaving-drug-but-it-has-become-intolerably-expensive-and-the-consequences-can-be-tragic/
6 Adrienne Broaddus, “Family says 21-year-old son died rationing insulin,” Kare 11, July 12, 2019, https://www.kare11.com/article/news/local/breaking-the-news/family-says-21-year-old-son-died-rationing-insulin/89-d451a01b-9170-4341-9010-155cb87edccc
7 Sarah Varney, “Watch: High Cost of Insulin Sends Americans to Canada to Stock Up,” Kaiser Health News, July 10, 2019, https://khn.org/news/insulin-high-cost-americans-caravan-to-canada-for-cheaper-supply/
8 Bram Sable-Smith, “Americans Cross Border Into Mexico to Buy Insulin at a Fraction of U.S. Cost,” Kaiser Health News, February 12, 2019, https://khn.org/news/americans-cross-border-into-mexico-to-buy-insulin-at-a-fraction-of-u-s-cost/