Bernie Sanders believes in lower US prices for Ozempic and Wegovy

The US senator recognizes parts of Novo Nordisk’s arguments, but still believes the Danish pharmaceutical company is exploiting the American people.
Photo: Evelyn Hockstein
Photo: Evelyn Hockstein

In September, the CEO of Novo Nordisk will testify before the US Senate Committee on Health, as chairman Bernie Sanders has invited Lars Fruergaard Jørgensen to explain the company’s price levels for the diabetes drug Ozempic and the obesity drug Wegovy.

And the Democratic senator, who once also ran for the party’s presidential nomination, is optimistic that Novo Nordisk can be convinced to lower prices. 

”I think we got a real shot, and I was pleased to see President Biden supporting that effort,” Sanders told Reuters on Wednesday. 

Last week, Sanders had a joint op-ed with President Joe Biden in USA Today calling for lower prices for US patients. 

Sanders has previously been successful in his pressure on the big pharmaceutical giants as Novo Nordisk, American Eli Lilly and French Sanofi lowered their prices on insulin in 2023. The three companies have approximately 90% of the US insulin market. 

”I think the major thing that we can do, and we’ve done this successfully in the past with insulin, ... is to put a focus on the greed of the pharmaceutical industry in general, and Novo Nordisk in particular, in terms of them ripping off the American people,” reads the senator’s harsh critique of the Danish company. 

”It is very hard for any company, especially one that is making record-breaking profits, to defend itself when they are charging the American people many times more for the same exact drug than they charge people in other countries.” 

Sanders has repeatedly referred to the fact that the list price for a month’s supply of Ozempic in the US is USD 969, while the same drug can be purchased for USD 155 in Canada, USD 122 in Denmark and USD 59 in Germany. 

For Wegovy, a month’s supply costs USD 1,349 in the US, USD 186 in Denmark, USD 140 in Germany and USD 92 in the UK, according to the Democratic senator. 

Sanders also has his eyes on Eli Lilly and its new diabetes drug Mounjaro, whose active ingredient Tirzepatide is also used in the successful obesity drug Zepbound. 

However, both Novo Nordisk and its US competitor have rejected the harsh criticism of US prices for diabetes and obesity medicines directed at the two companies in the piece from Biden and Sanders. 

”Comparing list prices in the United States to other countries ignores patient assistance programs and hundreds of billions of dollars in rebates and fees paid by pharmaceutical companies to PBMs, which should lower the cost of medications for Americans, but unfortunately this system can drive up prices,” Eli Lilly said in a statement last week. 

”PBM” stands for ”Pharmacy Benefit Manager”, referring to companies that help pharmacies and health insurers purchase drugs from manufacturers in order to obtain discounts. 

Novo Nordisk has also long argued that the complexity of the US healthcare system means that list prices are relatively high, while the pharmaceutical company gives large discounts to intermediaries who negotiate on behalf of health insurers and pharmacies. Therefore, the net price the company receives is significantly lower than the list prices. 

At the same time, patients covered by health insurance funds can get the medicine significantly cheaper. In addition, net prices are decreasing year by year. And for those patients who do not have health insurance, there are support programs, the Danish company argues. 

However, Sanders is far from buying these arguments. 

”To say that PBMs play a negative role is true, but notwithstanding that ... (the drug companies) are still ripping off the American people,” says the senator. 

”Novo, in all of their press releases, keep saying they want to work in a constructive way with elected officials. They’re not. They have not come back to us with anything constructive.” 

Novo Nordisk did not immediately wish to comment on Bernie Sanders’ statements to Reuters.

(English edit by Kristoffer Grønbæk)

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