Insulin cap law championed by Roberts earns spotlight in Biden’s State of the Union speech

Rep. Dylan Roberts, a Democrat from Avon, has represented the state's 26th District, which includes all of Routt and Eagle counties, since 2017.
John F. Russell/Steamboat Pilot & Today

When Julie Tourigny’s son Teddy was 10 years old, he started to feel unwell on a family vacation. When the family returned to Colorado, they went straight to the emergency room.

Teddy was soon diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes.

The family stayed at Children’s Hospital Colorado while they learned to how to give their son the insulin that had become crucial to keeping him alive. Doctors gave them a starter pack with insulin, needles and other key items, and the family took classes to ensure they knew how to care for Teddy.

But that was only meant to be temporary, and Tourigny got several prescriptions to fill when they returned to Steamboat. Unlike small vials she had obtained for ailments like pink eye or strep throat in the past, the price tag on this one was a bit higher.

The first prescription cost $800. With new insurance the next year, costs would range from $500 to $2,500 a month.

“We held on to Teddy’s vials of insulin,” Tourigny said. “They were the most precious things that we owned because of their cost. … We only pay $20 a month now,”

Colorado was the first state in the country to put a cap on insulin costs in 2019, an effort led by Routt County’s state Rep. Dylan Roberts, a Democrat from Avon, whose little brother was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes at age 11, prompting Roberts to sponsor the bill that instituted the cap.

On Tuesday, March 1, President Joe Biden championed insulin caps in his first State of the Union speech.

“Imagine what it’s like to look at your child who needs insulin and have no idea how you are going to pay for it,” Biden said. “Let’s cap the cost of insulin at $35 a month so everyone can afford it.”

Roberts said he didn’t know the president would be talking about insulin or the tool to control its costs that he proved works in Colorado during his speech, but he was glad to see it being discussed as a national issue.

“Congress has been talking about it for a couple of years now, which has been great, but to have it actually mentioned in a State of the Union speech really brings it to the forefront of the national conversation,” Roberts said.

Colorado’s 2019 law capped costs at $100 a month for those with state-regulated insurance, and, in 2021, the state approved an update that expanded the rules to ensure that all Coloradans can get insulin for an affordable price, Roberts said.

Roberts said as soon as the legislation was first passed, lawmakers from around the country started calling to ask for advice on how to make it happen in their states. About a dozen other states have since followed Colorado’s lead, Roberts said.

“Somebody had to make the first big bold step, and it was easier for other states to follow after that,” Roberts said. “This is not a partisan issue, this is about helping people who need a medicine to stay alive save some money and get the medicine they need.”

Biden said in his speech that insulin costs about $10 a bottle to make, which Roberts noted still leaves room for profits if a price is capped at $35. While it has been used as a treatment for diabetes for more than a century, Roberts said insulin has become a poster child for out-of-control prescription drug prices.

Roberts said he feels it should be priority for congress to reign in prices. He emphasized that legislation that targets insulin, specifically, can’t wait any longer.

“Colorado has shown how to do it,” Roberts said. “The longer you wait, the more harm that people are going to go through. … It’s going to help people stay healthy, it helps people save money and it’s just the right thing to do.”

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