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Washington lawmakers consider restrictions on insulin prices

UPDATED: Tue., Feb. 25, 2020

Kristen Parkes displays two different insulin brands on Nov. 27, 2016. State lawmakers are considering a bill that would cap the cost of the drug. (Dan Pelle / The Spokesman-Review)
Kristen Parkes displays two different insulin brands on Nov. 27, 2016. State lawmakers are considering a bill that would cap the cost of the drug. (Dan Pelle / The Spokesman-Review)
Daisy Zavala

OLYMPIA – Eight-year-old Levi Markland told lawmakers Tuesday he’s not supposed to worry about dying, but he does.

Levi has Type 1 diabetes and his family spends up to $1,000 a month on insulin.

Diabetes is unpredictable, expensive and cruel, said Amber Markland, Levi’s mom, who was sitting next to him as they testified at a House Health Care and Wellness Committee hearing.

The Olympia mother of three described the difficulty of “knowing that if you spend one extra cent you might not be able to afford the medicine that keeps someone you love alive.”

Coverage for insulin prescriptions would not be subjected to any deductibles under a bill being considered by the committee, and a subscriber’s out-of-pocket expenses for insulin couldn’t top $100 a month starting Jan. 1. The Health Care Authority would also be required to monitor the price of insulin in Washington.

Around 90,000 residents filled 771,000 insulin prescriptions in 2018, a 15% increase since 2014, according to the All Payer Claims Database, and that data doesn’t account for people on Veterans Administration and some self-insured plans.

“It is a life-and-death issue, and we can do something about it,” said Sen. Karen Keiser, D-Des Moines, the bill’s sponsor.

Health plans could submit a request for a $5 increase to out-of-pocket expenses for every $100 increase of insulin starting on Jan. 1, 2022, according to the bill.

Cathy McCaul, AARP advocacy director, said that 70% of Washington residents they polled found it difficult to pay for medication, including insulin.

In the poll responses, 26% of people indicated they were cutting their dosage to offset the high insulin prices, McCaul said. People are also skipping their dosage so they can pay for rent and food, she added.

Kevin Wren, chapter leader of Washington Insulin For All, said he has rationed his insulin his whole life, whether he had insurance or was unemployed, leading to other health complications.

“All diabetics need our insulin,” he said. “Without it, our food is poison and we die in a couple of days without it – painfully.”

Amber said everyone needs insulin to live but most people manufacture their own, internally. Levi has to pay for his.

“Pharmaceutical companies put a price tag on Levi’s life,” she said.

Levi urged committee members to pass the bill so families like his can “live with less worry and more time to love each other.”

The bill already passed the Senate on a bipartisan vote and is scheduled for a committee vote Thursday.

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