OLYMPIA — Washington House and Senate lawmakers have passed four major bills that could provide relief to residents paying exorbitant prices for prescription drugs, with a focus on insulin.
Those bills — which would cap prices for the diabetes drug and create a centralizing purchasing program for insulin — cleared a key hurdle in Olympia on Wednesday, the deadline for bills to pass the chamber where they started.
But just weeks remain in the legislative session until lawmakers must get bills to the governor’s desk for his signature.
Much of the attention now turns to the House, which will consider three bills championed by Sen. Karen Keiser, D-Des Moines.
The bills will be overseen by Rep. Eileen Cody, D-Seattle, who is chair of the House Health Care & Wellness Committee.
Despite some partisanship in the Senate, Cody said she can “guaran-damn-tee” that the bills will be met with broad support in the House, citing lawmakers in both parties that have been impacted by diabetes.
Meanwhile, a price-cap bill proposed by Republican floor leader Rep. Jacquelin Maycumber, R-Republic, has been lobbed over to the Senate.
In a public hearing for the bill, Maycumber described herself as an “amateur expert” on unreasonable insulin prices ever since her son was diagnosed with type I diabetes last year and she was forced to pay more than $1,000 to fill his prescription.
“We proceeded to join a group of parents that is a group I did not want or ask to join,” Maycumber said. “A group of people with children that mourn for the life they could’ve had and proceed to fear for the life they will have.”
Advocates are motivated by increasing prices as well as continued media coverage of diabetic individuals who are desperate for their life-saving medication — including a recent story of people turning to the black market via Craigslist.
Bills that passed
Senate Bill 6088: This bill would establish a drug-affordability board charged with identifying drugs that are excessively priced or quickly increasing in price, and setting price limits for state purchasers.
Senate Bill 6087: Out-of-pocket costs for a month’s supply of insulin would be capped at $100 until Jan. 1, 2023, under this bill. Advocates hope the bill will provide immediate relief while lawmakers figure out a longer-term solution to the crisis. Five Republicans voted yes on this bill, making it more bipartisan than Keiser’s other insulin-related bills.
Senate Bill 6113: Modeled after the state’s decades-old Childhood Vaccine Program, a centralized purchasing program that takes advantage of “bulk discount rates,” this bill would create a centralized insulin-purchasing program. Advocates hope the program could leverage the buying power of the state to drive down costs, but have urged lawmakers to include type I diabetics to the list of stakeholders involved in devising the purchasing strategy.
House Bill 2662: Similar to the approaches introduced by Keiser, this Republican-sponsored bill would create a $100 cap on out-of-pocket costs for a month’s supply of insulin, expiring in 2023. It would establish a work group to figure out how to reduce the cost of insulin, which may entail establishing a centralized purchasing program. This bill was passed overwhelmingly by the House.
Bills no longer being considered
Senate Bill 6110: A more unorthodox approach, this bill would have allowed the Health Care Authority to import prescription drugs from Canada, where insulin can be obtained at a fraction of the price. The bill faced scrutiny regarding importation from a country where the U.S. has no regulatory control, and failed to get out of committee.
Senate Bill 6111: In light of the increasing number of American caravans heading to Canada or Mexico to fill their expensive prescriptions, this legislation would have created a “pharmacy tourism program,” to reimburse state employees for travel expenses. The bill was modeled after a similar piece of legislation in Utah.
U.S. Sen. Patty Murray said Wednesday that the state Legislature’s ability to curb skyrocketing prescription drug costs may pave the way for a national solution.
“One of the things I hear the most about here at home is people talking about the cost of prescription drugs,” Murray said. “So I’m really excited to see what our state is doing and whether they can get it passed. I think they may be able to.”