A bill that would help ease the financial burden of Virginians who rely on insulin to manage their diabetes edges closer to becoming law as it crosses over to the State Senate this week. The House of Delegates approved the measure last week in a nearly unanimous vote.
House Bill 66 would cap co-pays for insured patients at $30 for a 30-day supply of insulin, the medication that helps regulate blood sugar and is essential for people with Type 1 diabetes.
“People with Type 1 diabetes have lost the ability to produce insulin. Without exogenous insulin administration, people with Type 1 diabetes receive a death sentence,” Becky Lanier-Bowers of the Virginia Diabetes Council said by email. “The cost of insulin has risen exponentially, and legislators are taking note. Without a means of controlling costs, people with Type 1 may not be able to purchase their life-sustaining insulin.”
If passed, the measure would cover private, state-regulated insurance plans, or about 50% of the plans issued in the state. That scope is similar to caps enacted in other states.
In 2018 — the most recent data available from the Virginia Department of Health — 10.5% of Virginians had been diagnosed with diabetes. Of those, 33.7% — or about 240,000 adults — are taking insulin.
A report from the U.S. House of Representatives last year found that in the past two decades, prices for the most commonly prescribed insulins have risen from about $20 per vial to more than $250 per vial — a more than 700 percent increase after adjusting for inflation.
Just three companies — Eli Lilly, Novo Nordisk and Sanofi — manufacture the majority of insulin in the world. A group of patients has sued the companies on allegations of price fixing.
These coordinated price hikes have led many people to skimp on their insulin or stretch supplies out. Others have stopped using it or switched to less expensive types, which can lead to complications and even death.
Last year, 27-year-old Josh Wilkerson of Leesburg died after switching to a less expensive, over-the-counter type of insulin when he could no longer afford what he’d been prescribed.
In 2018, there were 2,281 deaths from diabetes in Virginia.
At least two other states, Colorado and Illinois, have passed similar measures. A number of other measures are in the works in statehouses across the country.
After the State Senate weighs in on the bill, it would still need the approval of Gov. Ralph Northam.
Maureen Pao is a reporter in the WAMU newsroom.