The Senate health committee will hold a hearing next week on the diabetes epidemic in the U.S., committee chairman Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) said.
Sanders, who earlier this year interrogated drug manufacturers about the high cost of insulin, told The Hill the hearing will focus broadly on the underlying causes of the rise in diabetes, especially in children.
“Focusing on why we are seeing a huge increase, and have seen a huge increase over the last 30 years, in the number of diabetics in this country, and the relationship to that explosion … with what our kids are eating,” Sanders said in a brief interview.
Sanders also said he wanted to look into an emerging class of drugs called GLP-1 medications, like Ozempic, Wegovy, and Mounjaro that are used to treat type 2 diabetes.
The diabetes hearing was reported earlier by Stat News.
The drugs have exploded in popularity in recent years, as new uses have been discovered. They’ve gone from helping people control their diabetes to being used for obesity, and studies have shown there is potential to reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease and even some cancers.
The drugs are so popular the demand has exceeded supply, leading to a manufacturing shortage.
They can help patients lose a dramatic amount of weight, but cost more than $1,000 a month, and insurers often institute policies like lifetime coverage caps, onerous paperwork rules, or even outright refusal to cover the drugs even if they’re approved by the Food and Drug Administration.
“They’re apparently very significant drugs that could be helpful, but they’re not going to be helpful if people can’t afford them,” Sanders said. “And then the question is why we are paying in some cases eight times more for that drug than people in other countries?”
According to health policy research group KFF, the $936 montly list price for Ozempic is more than five times as expensive as in Japan, which has the second highest list price at $169.
Ozempic is only approved for treating type 2 diabetes, though it’s used off-label for weight loss.
The list price for Wegovy, which has the same active ingredient as Ozempic and is approved for weight loss, is $1,349, nearly four times as expensive as Germany’s $328 list price.
List prices of course aren’t necessarily reflective of what a patient will pay because of rebates and patient coupons. Private insurers and employers may also be able to negotiate lower prices with drug manufacturers or get larger rebates.