MPA | Pharmacy News

If drugmakers won’t lower insulin prices, maybe Michigan should make its own.

That’s the thinking of a small group of lawmakers and others, led by Sen. Curt VanderWall, R-Ludington, who have been meeting with drugmakers and university representatives to determine whether Michigan can make its own insulin to sharply reduce costs for the life-saving drug.

The talks are preliminary, with many questions lingering, said VanderWall, who chairs the Senate’s Health Policy and Human Services Committee.

“Can we bring manufacturers to the table … to say ‘I'm willing to sell this product at this cost?’ That's one option. The other option is: Do we actually bring the state … into being a manufacturer of insulin and sell that product at our cost?”

VanderWall said he’s approached drugmakers, including Pfizer, as well as the University of Michigan and Michigan State University.

MSU is particularly well suited, because it likely has the facilities to manufacture the products, said Dominick Pallone, executive director of the Michigan Association of Health Plans, which represents 11 Michigan insurers. Pallone said his staff has been part of initial discussions, too.

MSU spokesperson Emily Guerrant confirmed that the university, in East Lansing, “has discussed the idea of helping the state with insulin production,” with a focus on providing space for the operation. Guerrant,  too, called discussions “preliminary.”

VanderWall’s idea is one of several efforts to lower the price of insulin and other critical medications in Michigan, and across the country. Lawmakers from both parties have taken recent steps in Lansing to lower costs, part of a growing movement across the nation to provide relief to consumers.  

There are several hurdles to Michigan making its own insulin, not the least of which would be federal approval for any manufacturing process, Pallone and VanderWall told Bridge Michigan.

A key, Pallone said, is in making sure that if Michigan wins approval to produce insulin that it retains intellectual property rights to keep consumer prices low. 

“The thinking is, ‘If we can build it in the state, let’s build it,’” Pallone said. “Or, if we can’t, how do we partner with somebody to do it for us?”

Higher prices for critical medications  

Tamping down drug prices is getting lots of attention in Congress these days and is a major concern for Americans, according to a poll last month by KFF, a San Francisco-based health care research nonprofit.

National drug spending jumped 7.7 percent in 2021, growing to $576.9 billion, according to a study released this month by the American Society of Health-System Pharmacists.

The rising price of insulin — a diabetes drug that’s been around 100 years — has been well documented and widely criticized. Solutions, though, have proven elusive. 

Prices for some insulin tripled between 2002 and 2013, according to one peer-reviewed study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association. They jumped another 54 percent in the years since. Much of the ire is directed at the three drug companies that have dominated production. 

About 7.4 million people in the U.S. have insulin prescriptions out of more than 30 million people diagnosed with some form of diabetes.

The toll is clear: In a separate KFF survey, 1-in-4 diabetes patients said they had skipped doses because of the high cost of insulin, which is more than three times higher in the U.S. than in other leading developed nations.

Soaring drug prices go beyond insulin, of course. Medicare patients without drug coverage subsidies reported skipping anti-cancer drugs (30 percent of beneficiaries), immune disorders (50 percent) and hepatitis C treatments (22 percent), according to another peer-reviewed study, published this month in Health Affairs.

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