LANSING — The Legislature is reviewing bills that would reduce insulin copays, allow pharmacies to provide emergency insulin refills and cover those refills under health insurance.
One vial of insulin can cost up to $100-$600 or more, according to GoodRX, a California-based telemedicine platform that helps users track prescription drug prices.
And that may not even be enough to cover someone for a single month, according to Gary Dougherty, the director of state government affairs at the American Diabetes Association.
“People with diabetes are facing a crisis and they should not die because they can’t afford to live,” he said in testimony to the House Health Policy Committee.
The committee was reviewing a bill by Rep. Sara Cambensy, D-Marquette, to cap insulin copays at $50 for a 30-day prescription.
The bill, one piece of a larger 15-part health care package, was passed by the House in late March and referred to the Senate Health Policy and Human Services Committee.
In March, Sen. Kevin Daley, R-Lum, also introduced legislation that would let pharmacies give emergency 30-day insulin refills to diabetes patients and cover the cost with health insurance.
“These bills are meant to provide a safety net to those who rely on insulin in their day-to-day lives,” Daley said. “We’ve seen the benefits of emergency refill laws in 38 other states, I’m looking forward to Michigan being the 39th.”
The bills were a direct result of constituent advocacy and the story of Kevin Houdeshell, he said.
Houdeshell was a 36-year-old from Avon Lake, Ohio. Diagnosed with type-1 diabetes at age 26, he needed insulin, but was unable to get a refill because of an expired prescription.
Four days later, he died of diabetic ketoacidosis — a process that occurs when a person’s body breaks down fats too rapidly, creating excess ketones and making the blood acidic.
After his death, the Houdeshell family advocated for “Howdy’s Law” to stop preventable deaths like Kevin’s.
Ohio adopted the law in 2015, and 37 other states have since followed suit.
Not all states included a follow up to cover the emergency refill under insurance, and that was a missed opportunity, according to Daley.
“Emergency access to insulin does not help the patient if they are unable to afford the full cost because insurance will not cover it,” he said.
One in 10 Michigan adults were diagnosed with diabetes in 2016, according to a study by the state Department of Health and Human Services.
A quarter million of them need insulin to live, according to Dougherty.
Daley said the next legislative step is to address insulin costs directly.
“I think we can all agree the cost of prescription drugs is out of control,” he said.
So far, only 10 states have caps on out-of-pocket insulin costs, according to Beyond Type-1, a California-based advocacy group for those with diabetes.
However, many of those laws have loopholes that allow multi-state companies or companies with self-funded health care plans to dodge the caps, according to its website.
Cambensy’s proposal would include all health insurance policies in and outside the state if they cover Michigan residents, according to the bill.
The Biden administration has not yet taken action on prescription drug costs, although it was a part of his official campaign platform.
President Joe Biden came under fire in a number of Facebook and Twitter posts that blamed him for the rise in insulin prices after he took office and temporarily froze a controversial executive order from the Trump administration.
According to President Donald Trump, the order would have lowered prices for insulin and EpiPens, a claim disputed by the National Association of Community Health Centers.
Co-sponsors of Cambensy’s copay bill include Reps. Ken Borton, R-Gaylord; Annette Glenn, R-Midland; and Kelly Breen, D-Novi.
Co-sponsors of Daley’s bills include Sens. John Bizon, R-Battle Creek, and Lana Theis, R-Brighton.