When Canadian researcher Sir Frederick Grant Banting discovered insulin in 1922, he sold the patent for only $1 because he considered it a public good, explaining: “Insulin does not belong to me, it belongs to the world.”
Fast forward to 2018 when, according to the state All Payer Claims Database, more than 90,000 Washington patients enrolled in government and private insurance plans paid a total of $31 million in out-of-pocket insulin costs. Patients covered by private insurance paid an average of $206 per month. Uninsured patients can pay hundreds of dollars for a single vial of the lifesaving medication. This is simply unsustainable for many insulin-dependent diabetics, who are forced to choose between paying for insulin or other basic needs.
Three bills winding their way through committees in Olympia could bring immediate and long-term relief from this untenable situation.
House Bill 2662 would cap insulin costs at $100 for 30-day supply for the next two years and task a work group with figuring out long-term strategies to reduce the cost of insulin to consumers.
Senate Bill 6087 also would limit out-of-pocket expenses for a 30-day supply of insulin to $100 until establishment of centralized state insulin purchasing program. SB 6113 establishes a work group to design that program, which would leverage the state’s purchasing power and allow the state to set maximum prices and negotiate discounts with manufacturers on behalf of Washington residents.
Lawmakers should act swiftly to bring the bills into alignment and usher them into law.
The cost of insulin has been skyrocketing. From 2002-2013, the mean price per milliliter of insulin increased nearly 200% — from $4.34 to $12.92 — according to a 2016 paper published in the Journal of the American Medical Association. During that same time, the estimated expenditure per patient rose from an average of $231 to $736. A different study, conducted by the Health Care Cost Institute, a nonprofit research organization, found that patients with Type 1 diabetes spent an average of $5,705 for insulin in 2016 — up from $2,864 in 2012. As is always the case with averages, some patients spent significantly more.
In absence of federal solutions, states are stepping up to address this urgent crisis. This week, Illinois became the latest state to cap out-of-pocket insulin costs at $100 per month.
Some opponents of the bills fear the $100 cap would drive premiums up without identifying or addressing the root causes of dramatic price increases. This is a valid concern. But sun-setting the cost limit allows immediate help to consumers while work groups find a long-term fix.
Washington has long led the way among states in increasing access to affordable health care. Lawmakers should act swiftly to provide needed relief.