Tennessee lawmakers looking at bill to cap insulin prices for diabetics

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KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WATE) — Insulin is a life-saving medication millions of Americans need every day to live and the price tag keeps going up.

The American Diabetes Association saying between 2002 and 2013, the average price of insulin nearly tripled.

Tennessee lawmakers are now trying to tackle that issue.

A bill was recently introduced by State Senator Katrina Robinson, a Memphis-area Democrat. The bill puts a cap of no more than $100 on the total amount a health care company can require a patient with diabetes to pay for a 30-day supply of insulin.

Sen. Robinson says people all over Tennessee simply can’t afford insulin and it’s unacceptable to have people rationing their insulin.

“These are matters of life and death and we can’t afford to hesitate on taking action any longer. While this bill is still a work in progress and we are in on-going meetings about putting the proper amendments in place – the intent of the bill is to require health insurance carriers to make insulin affordable, regardless of the amount, type or number of insulins needed to fill that prescription for Tennesseans living with diabetes.”

– State Senator Katrina Robinson

In 2018, Mara McJilton was a sophomore at UT and experienced a night she won’t soon forget, “December second actually at 2:30 in the morning I woke up, couldn’t breathe. Long story short, one of my friends drove me to the hospital.”

McJilton, now a junior, says during that time she was losing her vision and for weeks, had been sick. She’d gone to a number of urgent care clinics but tests always came back negative for flu-like illnesses.

She says it took that hospital visit in December to learn she had Type 1 diabetes.

“They checked my blood sugar and my blood sugar was at 560. A normal blood sugar, for perspective, is between 70 and 140,” she said.

Mara McJilton was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes in December 2018.

Every day since then, McJilton carries a bag with all her medicine.

“I’m insulin-dependent. I need insulin to live,” she explained.

It comes with a hefty price tag every month for a 30-day supply.

“The long-acting [insulin] with insurance is $600, my [insulin] inhaler plus the cartridges is $1,200, I have sensors that read my blood sugar, those are $150 with insurance and then counting all of the supplies,” explained McJilton.

She says with help from her doctors, she’s able to get her insulin prescription costs down a bit. But, McJilton is on a student insurance plan and worries what will happen when she graduates.

“Who can afford that? That is an entire month’s paycheck for some people,” she said.

Hearing that Tennessee lawmakers are considering a cap on insulin prices brings McJilton some peace of mind, “It’s super important to have a reasonable price for this medicine because so many people in this world are insulin dependent.”

McJilton saying she’s hopeful as this legislation moves forward, “I think something needs to be done and it needs to be done soon.”

The American Diabetes Association says there are three insulin manufacturers that offer immediate and long-term solutions if you’re needing help to pay for the drug.

For more information, click here.

Before you call, the ADA says be prepared to answer questions like:

  • Income
  • If you have an active prescription at a pharmacy
  • Cost of insulin for monthly supply
  • Method of insulin administration (via/pen)
  • Dosage
  • How much insulin you have on-hand
  • Type of insurance
  • Amount of deductible

The price of insulin has been on the minds of lawmakers at a federal level.

Back in October, Congressman Tim Burchett sent a letter to Attorney General William Barr urging the DOJ to investigate increasing insulin prices.

Congressman Burchett specifically wanting the Justice Department to investigate a practice known as “price fixing.” In his letter, Congressman Burchett voiced his concerns over rising costs despite the cost of insulin production remaining steady.

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