By Will Gonzalez
Capital News Service
Gov. Ralph Northam recently signed a bill to cap the costs of prescription insulin copays at $50 per month, one of the lowest caps in the country.
, sponsored by Del. Lee Carter, D-Manassas, originally aimed to cap the costs of prescription insulin copays at $30 per month. By the time the bill passed the Senate, the cap was amended to $50 per month.
Cheers and applause roared through the chamber when the bill seemed poised to unanimously pass the House, until a lone delegate their vote and groans replaced the cheers. But they still had something to celebrate ––Virginia will have the country’s fourth lowest insulin cap.
“For people that have diabetes, they tend to be on anywhere from five to eight medications. So even if they have good health insurance, paying copays anywhere from $5 or $10 per prescription adds up very quickly,” said Evan Sisson, professor at the VCU School of Pharmacy and vice-chairperson of the . “So to be able to cap [insulin] is a huge benefit for patients.”
The bill prohibits health insurance providers from charging a copay over $50 for a one-month supply, or from allowing or requiring a pharmacy to charge any more. The bill incorporates , which was introduced by Del. James A. Leftwich, R-Chesapeake, and shares the same wording as Carter’s bill, but the copay amount was capped at $100.
“This bill is aimed at providing relief for those folks who have health insurance but can’t afford to use it, that is a vast swath of Virginia’s population,” Carter said during a Senate committee hearing.
Insulin prices have risen so much in recent years that some diabetics have resorted to where the drug is much cheaper. According to Sisson, for someone with diabetes, especially Type 2, a lack of insulin can lead to major complications, and even be a matter of life or death.
“What the body does is it kicks into looking for other sources of energy other than glucose, and it starts to produce more fat,” Sisson said. “If you have more fat floating in the bloodstream, then you end up with more hardening of the arteries of atherosclerosis. What that means is you have higher blood pressure, and higher risk of heart attack or stroke.”
Prior to the , someone diagnosed with diabetes was expected to die in a matter of months, with restrictive dieting extending that to as long as a couple of years. When Canadian researchers completed the development of insulin in 1922, they sold the patent to the University of Toronto for $1, hoping that everyone who was affected by diabetes would be able to benefit from the life-saving drug.
Since then, the price has constantly increased, dramatically so over the past few decades. In 2009, a 10 milliliter vial of insulin cost between $90 and $100. Today, that same vial will cost between $250 and $300, even though little .
When HB 66 was sent to the governor only two other states in the U.S. had hard caps for insulin copays. The first to introduce one was , and the second was , both states have their caps at $100 per month.