Rep. Dylan Roberts: Leading on insulin and prescription drug savings
For Steamboat Pilot & Today
Colorado has led the way in lowering the cost of life-saving prescription drugs. We did it in the face of special interests who tried to stop us and we did it in a bipartisan manner — because people’s health and financial security are more important than politics. Now, it is time for the nation to follow our lead.
In 2019, I wrote the first bill in the nation that capped the cost of insulin copays at $100 per month. I recruited bipartisan sponsors in the Colorado House and Senate, where it passed both chambers and was then signed into law by the governor — making history not only in Colorado, but in the country as a whole.
In 2021, I returned to the capitol with a follow-up bill to ensure that the uninsured or underinsured could access the insulin they need to survive at an affordable price of $50 per month. Again, that bill passed the legislature with bipartisan support and was signed into law by the governor.
We passed these historic laws not because of politics, but because they save money and lives. Insulin is truly the poster-child for the country’s skyrocketing price of prescription drugs, and that increase is hurting people’s health and bank accounts — for no reason.
A vial of insulin cost about $21 in 1996. In 2019, that same vial of insulin (with no change in the chemical makeup), cost over $300. As most Type 1 diabetics and many Type 2 diabetics need multiple vials of insulin per month, people were paying $600-$2,000 per month for a medicine they need to survive even as the cost to produce the insulin remains unchanged from the 90s.
For diabetics, insulin is like oxygen — without it, you die. So, Coloradans and Americans were held hostage to the price increases with no recourse.
Because of these excessive prices, over 40% of Colorado diabetics tragically admitted to rationing their insulin in 2020. Thankfully, Coloradans no longer need to pay exorbitant prices just to survive because our legislators — regardless of party — came together and passed my insulin bills. Further, we laid the groundwork for similar price controls for other vital prescription drugs through passing the Prescription Drug Affordability Board in 2021. Now, it’s time for our model of saving money and lives to go national.
Thankfully, national leaders are noticing. Members of Congress from both parties have started advocating for insulin price caps this year and President Biden even said in the 2022 State of the Union address, “Let’s cap the cost of insulin at $35 a month.”
One in 10 Americans has diabetes. There are too many Americans experiencing the hardships that accompany living with diabetes. With 78% of Americans supporting proposals making insulin more affordable, there is clearly an appetite for and an acute need for insulin pricing reform.
Fortunately, nearly 20 states have begun addressing this political party-agnostic issue, multiple with Republican legislatures and governors. Given this issue’s popularity and bipartisan appeal, its ability to save money and lives, and the example we set in Colorado, there is no coherent reason why every state in the country — along with the federal government — cannot follow our lead.
We even set an example for lawmakers in Washington, D.C. to aspire toward. Don’t take it from me, take it from Sen. John Kennedy, R – La., who is prioritizing making insulin more affordable for his constituents. He mentions in regard to this goal, “Hundreds of thousands of Louisianians rely on life saving medications like insulin … and 12% of adults in our state have diabetes … Our people need access to affordable medications.”
On a similar note from across the aisle, Senators Raphael Warnock, D-Ga., and our very own, Michael Bennet, D-Colo., are sponsoring a bill aiming to cap the price of insulin. Respectfully, I encourage Republicans and Democrats in Washington, D.C. to follow our lead by putting political differences aside and working together in creating legislation making insulin and other prescription drugs accessible for Americans.
Will there be relentless opposition from big pharma throughout this endeavor? Definitely. Will corporate executives, pharmacy benefit managers and insurance companies stop at nothing to preserve the status quo? You bet. But I ask those who are considering taking up this issue: If Colorado can change the game when it comes to insulin and drug pricing reform, why can’t you? We just showed the entire country it can be done.
If you’d like to find out if you or somebody you know qualifies for the Insulin Affordability Program, please visit the webpage DOI.Colorado.gov/for-consumers/consumer-resources/insulin-affordability-program.
As always, please contact me about this topic or any others at 970-846-3054 or email@example.com.
Rep. Dylan Roberts serves Routt County and Eagle County in the Colorado State House.
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