Physicians group urges FTC to monitor insulin pricing

The American Medical Association is urging the Federal Trade Commission to take action against drug companies they say are contributing to high prices for insulin.

In a letter to FTC Chairman Joseph Simons, the AMA said physicians are concerned that the rapid rise in the price of insulin for patients is unrelated to the actual costs of research, development, commercialization, or production.

“While a variety of complicated factors contribute to increases in insulin prices, we remain concerned that anticompetitive behavior by manufacturers and pharmaceutical benefit managers (PBMs) could be one of them,” AMA wrote.

Rising insulin costs have drawn outrage from diabetes advocates and physicians, leading to calls for greater transparency and federal oversight of the market for a drug that helps more than 7 million Americans.

High insulin prices impact stakeholders throughout the health care system, but the consequences fall most heavily on patients, AMA wrote.

The consequences of an anticompetitive market could include worse health outcomes for patients due to artificially high and unaffordable prices of a critical medication, AMA said.

Insulin was first discovered nearly 100 years ago, and as newer forms of the drug have been introduced, the price has climbed.

Three companies — Eli Lilly, Sanofi and Novo Nordisk — control 99 percent of the world’s insulin, and advocates have been asking them to explain their pricing. According to the American Diabetes Association, the average price of insulin nearly tripled between 2002 and 2013.

Untangling the price is not easy and speaks to the larger issue of rising drug costs. Drugmakers say the list price of insulin isn’t what patients actually pay, because secret rebates negotiated by PBMs will reduce it.

PBMs say the drug company is ultimately responsible for setting the price.

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