International

California suing Novo Nordisk for “driving up the cost” of insulin

Ben Hamilton    January 13th, 2023


Danish pharma giant one of six companies named in lawsuit in response to prices being almost ten times higher in the US than most other western countries

Hard to tell whether the flag is at half-mast (photo: Novo Nordisk)

Novo Nordisk is one of three pharmaceutical companies being sued by the US state of California for charging too much for insulin.

Over 10 percent of the state’s adult population are diabetics, amounting to at least 3 million people, and California’s attorney general, Rob Bonta, contends that many are unable to afford medicine that “can mean the difference between life and death” – even if they have health insurance.

Those most at risk tend to be from low-income households. According to the California Department of Public Health, black and Hispanic people in the state are far more likely to have diabetes than non-Hispanic white people and much more likely to die as a result.

Crazy gulf between countries
The lawsuit accuses Novo Nordisk – along with fellow pharma giants Eli Lilly (US) and Sanofi (France) – of “driving up the cost of the lifesaving drug through unlawful, unfair, and deceptive business practices in violation of California’s Unfair Competition Law”. 

Bonta refers to a 2020 study carried out by RAND that demonstrated the price of insulin in the USA was four to ten times more than 32 other countries surveyed.

While a vial of insulin cost 98.7 dollars in the US, the next most expensive was in Chile, where it costs 21.48. Most of the countries were at least six to eight times cheaper: Japan (14.4), Canada (12.0), Germany (11.0) and France (9.8).

Many are forced to ration their usage
Three other companies – pharmacy benefit managers (PBMs) CVS Caremark, Express Scripts, and OptumRx – are also named in the lawsuit, accused of “leveraging their market power to overcharge patients”.

“Insulin is a necessary drug that millions of Americans rely upon for their health, not a luxury good. With today’s lawsuit, we’re fighting back against drug companies and PBMs that unacceptably and artificially inflate the cost of life-saving medication at the expense of vulnerable patients,” claimed Bonta.

“No-one should be forced to ration or go without basic medication that could mean the difference between life or death. California will continue to be a leader in the fight to ensure everyone has equal access to affordable healthcare and prescription medications they need to stay healthy.”

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