The state Senate gave final approval Tuesday to a pair of health bills that would cap the soaring cost of insulin in Connecticut and extend changes to telemedicine through March 2021.
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The Senate voted 35-1 in favor of a measure limiting the monthly cost of insulin to $25 for people on state-regulated health plans. Insulin-related supplies, such as blood sugar meters, pumps and syringes, would be capped at $100 a month, and the cost of other glucose-lowering medications would be limited to $25 per month.
The bill cleared the House last week. In between the two chamber votes, President Donald Trump signed a series of executive orders, including one that mirrors part of Connecticut’s bill: a requirement that federally qualified health centers – which can receive steep pharmaceutical discounts under a government program for low-income patients – to pass savings on insulin and epinephrine auto-injectors directly to those patients.
Connecticut’s proposal establishes a working group to study whether the state’s social services commissioner should launch an income-based program for people unable to afford insulin. The program would assist people by referring them to the qualified health centers, where they could take advantage of discounted drugs through the government’s 340b initiative, which allows patients to obtain medications at substantially reduced prices.
The bill also gives pharmacists the authority to dispense insulin in emergency situations, an effort modeled after Kevin’s Law in Ohio. Most provisions of the bill would go into effect in January 2022.
The lone dissenter was Sen. Rob Sampson, a Republican from Wolcott, who argued that the proposal amounted to socialism and questioned the timing of the vote.
“Is this bill an emergency?” he asked. “Why is this bill even before us today, when there are so many more pressing concerns for the state of Connecticut?”
“I’m certain that people who are affected by insulin prices would put this high on the list of things they’re concerned about, and I sympathize with them. … But today is a day that’s supposed to be focused on doing things based on the COVID-19 emergency.”
Sampson said the bill does little to address the underlying cost of insulin, and would shift the expense to others in the state through increased premiums on health plans, a point that has been echoed by lobbyists for the insurance industry.
“You’ve got to remember that when the government imposes price controls, someone has to pay. Nothing is for free,” he said. “And there are always going to be consequences.”
Ted Doolittle, the state’s health care advocate, applauded the bill’s passage but agreed that costs would be passed along to others in the form of higher premiums.
“This bill is good news because it shifts costs away from diabetic individuals and families, but it does nothing to lower the underlying unjustifiably high costs of insulin and diabetic supplies,” Doolittle said. “The carriers will pass these expenses on to everyone in the form of higher premiums, because spreading catastrophic expenses from one family to a larger community is the purpose of insurance. Until we deal with those underlying high prices, premiums for everyone will go up to pay for this program.”
Sen. Matthew Lesser, D-Middletown, a key backer of the measure, pointed to a Yale University study concluding that 1 in 4 people who depend on insulin were rationing the drug because of the cost.
“Today, the average price of a vial of insulin is somewhere between $274 and $446. The average out-of-pocket costs per year in the United States has gone from about $2,900 to $5,700 – and that’s even before you get to the cost of diabetes supplies,” he said.
“If you have empathy for people – even if you are not yourself a Type 1 diabetic or have diabetes that requires insulin, even if it doesn’t affect your family – this is the right thing to do for our state, for our community.”
The Senate also passed a bill that extends broader telehealth services through March 15, 2021. Under the changes, more providers can participate in the appointments, from behavioral therapists to dentists. The measure also allows audio-only phone calls and ensures providers are paid the same amount for a telehealth visit as they would be for an in-person appointment.
The Senate voted 35-0 in favor of the bill. Sampson did not vote. The House gave its unanimous support to the measure last week.
The proposals now head to Gov. Ned Lamont’s desk for a signature.