North Dakota lawmakers bring back bill to cap insulin prices
In just the last three years, nearly two dozen states have established insulin price caps.
BISMARCK — Amid rising prescription drug prices, a bipartisan group of legislators wants to establish a ceiling on the amount diabetic North Dakotans pay for insulin.
Sen. Tim Mathern, D-Fargo, is sponsoring Senate Bill 2140, which would cap the price of a 30-day supply of insulin at $25. Co-payments for related medical supplies, including blood glucose meters, insulin pen needles and syringes, would also be capped at $25 per 30 days.
In 2021, the Senate narrowly defeated a similar proposal that would have applied only to residents covered by a public employees' insurance plan.
A 2020 report prepared by nonprofit think tank RAND Corporation found that insulin prices had “increased dramatically over the past decade in the United States.” The average manufacturer price of the life-saving drug in the U.S. was about 10 times higher than in other developed countries as of 2018, according to the report.
But lawmakers across the nation have recently begun to tackle rising pharmaceutical prices with legislation. In just the last three years, nearly two dozen states have established insulin price caps.
Mathern told the Senate Human Service Committee on Wednesday, Jan. 11, his bill is needed to “save lives and prevent the economic destruction of family units.”
Sen. Dick Dever, a Bismarck Republican who backed the failed bill in 2021, said Wednesday that North Dakotans who depend on insulin sometimes have to ration their doses of the drug due to cost considerations.
“There is no reason that insulin needs to be priced as high as it is,” Dever said.
Mathern argued that insulin costs are such a strain on diabetic residents that the Legislature should bypass a rule that requires drug price caps to undergo a two-year trial period in which the changes are only applied to public employees’ health care plans.
Sen. Kristin Roers, R-Fargo, disagreed with Mathern, saying “it frustrates me that we expect everybody else to follow the laws that we pass, but we don’t follow our own.”
The well-attended hearing at the state Capitol pitted mothers of diabetic children against lobbyists for insurance providers.
Angela Kritzberger said her teenage daughter with Type 1 diabetes nearly died as a young child due to complications from the auto-immune disease. The Hillsboro resident said an insulin price cap is critical to ensuring diabetic North Dakotans like her daughter can attain the drug.
“Affordable access to necessary life-saving medicines and supplies should be the minimum standard of care,” Kritzberger said.
Danelle Johnson, a Horace resident whose adult daughter is diabetic, said “the inability to afford insulin is more daunting than having a family member diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes.”
Dylan Wheeler, a lobbyist for Sanford Health Plan, said the costs of a co-payment cap on insulin for insurance providers would have to be passed along to other customers covered by the companies. He added that the proposed price cap would eliminate certain rebates paid out by drug manufacturers that result in savings for customers.
Megan Houn, a lobbyist for Blue Cross Blue Shield of North Dakota, said some insurance providers including Blue Cross are establishing lower insulin prices without a government mandate. She added that lower-cost insulin is beginning to hit the market.
Committee Chairwoman Judy Lee, R-West Fargo, noted that any insulin price cap wouldn’t affect residents on self-funded health care plans, which are common among employees of small businesses.
“That is not a reason to blow this (bill) away… but we can’t fix it for everybody,” Lee said.
Lee said the cause and effect of capping the price of insulin and potentially losing rebates from drug companies makes lawmakers’ task “more complicated than just being humanitarian and trying to do the right thing.”
The committee won’t take action on the bill until after an employee benefits panel meets later this month, Lee said.