HELENA — Montanans who say they spend hundreds of dollars a month on insulin spoke Monday in favor of a bill that would require insurance companies to cap their monthly copayment at $35 for the medication that helps them regulate their blood sugar and prevent dangerous health complications.
The cost of insulin has been rising rapidly for years, including tripling between 2002 and 2013, according to the American Medical Association, even though the drug is largely unchanged.
Two of Bri Runde’s six children have diabetes and she testified the cost of insulin is “outrageous.” Runde is hoping lawmakers get her and other families drowning in insulin costs some relief.
“Our boys cannot live without insulin and it feels as though the companies manufacturing it are taking full advantage of that,” she said.
Health insurance companies oppose the bill, saying it would not solve the problem that drives the high cost of insulin. Instead, it would spread the costs of insulin to all health insurance rate payers, driving up health insurance costs.
“This really is not an insurance problem. It’s a price problem. Why are drug companies raising the cost? Because they can and they will and this bill will not stop them,’ said John Doran, vice president of external affairs at Blue Cross and Blue Shield Montana, a health insurance provider.
“Invariably, the insurance companies still pay the top dollar, and the difference comes back to our consumers in the form of higher premiums,” said Doran.
Insurance company representatives testified that the bill would take the pressure off insulin manufacturers, who would continue to charge exorbitant prices for insulin but no longer face pressure to lower costs from the public.
Bill sponsor Rep. Jessica Karjala, a Democrat from Billings, said “the question we all need to ask ourselves is whether or not we’re looking out for profit margins of insurance companies or the lives of Montanans. Are we worried about keeping insurance companies beholden to their shareholders or are we going to prioritize keeping people alive?”
The Montana House Human Services committee is expected to vote later this week on whether to advance the bill to a hearing on the floor of the Montana House.
Insulin price caps are already in place in numerous states, including Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Illinois, Maine, New Hampshire, New Mexico, New York, Utah, Virginia, Vermont, Washington and West Virginia. In most of those states, the monthly cost is capped at $100 per month, according to The American Diabetes Association, which advocates for people with diabetes.
The price caps have gained popularity in the last year. Colorado became the first state to pass the cap in 2019, with numerous states passing similar bills in 2020.
Bill supporters said that without a cap on the cost of insulin, people with diabetes are pushed to ration their insulin intake, leading to detrimental and potentially life-threatening health effects.
Marci Butcher, a Helena resident who advocates for patients with diabetes, including her husband, said her husband’s insulin costs have gone from $25 per vial when he was first diagnosed to $300.
“Many are forced to make the untenable choice between life-saving medication and living expenses,” Butcher said.
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