HELENA — Montana lawmakers heard testimony Monday on a bill aimed at limiting the cost of insulin for diabetes patients.
The House Human Services Committee held a hearing on House Bill 222, sponsored by Democratic Rep. Jessica Karjala of Billings. It would require that any insurance company that offers prescription drug coverage charge patients no more than $35 in copays for a 30-day supply of insulin.
Insulin treatments are vital for people with Type 1 diabetes, and they can be used by those with Type 2 diabetes. Supporters of HB 222 said insulin prices have increased threefold or more in recent decades, putting a severe burden on those patients.
Several people testifying in favor of the bill provided personal stories of family members who had to ration their insulin or go without it for a time because of the cost. They said that can lead to serious side effects.
“Sooner or later, someone has to make it clear that it is not okay to make billions of dollars of profits off of persons that have no option but to pay or become blind or disabled or to die,” said Mary Jennifer Allen, who said her husband would have had to pay $3,000 for a month’s supply of insulin – though she noted his situation was different and would not have been covered by this bill.
The bill also drew support from medical groups, advocates for seniors and others.
“Affordable insulin is key to a healthier Montana,” said Marci Butcher, who represented the Montana Association of Diabetes Care and Education Specialists. “You have the very real opportunity to make a difference to Montana families with diabetes.”
Supporters said about 14 states have implemented this type of cap on insulin costs.
HB 222 drew opposition from health insurers, who said they sympathized with the people affected by high insulin costs but argued the bill wouldn’t address the root cause: the prices set by drug manufacturers.
“Why are drug companies raising the cost of life-saving drugs like insulin?,” asked John Doran, Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Montana’s vice president of external affairs. “Because they can, and they will, and this bill won’t stop them from doing that.”
They said, if lawmakers put a cap on copays, insurance companies will still have to pay the rising costs to pharmaceutical companies, and they will have to pass those increasing costs on by raising other people’s premiums.
Sean Slanger, representing America’s Health Insurance Plans, said a number of necessary drugs are becoming prohibitively expensive, and insurers are concerned about the precedent that would be set if lawmakers place a cap on insulin.
The committee didn’t take immediate action on HB 222 after Monday’s hearing.