Jul. 22--The Connecticut General Assembly's Insurance and Real Estate Committee held a virtual listening session Tuesday to deliberate two bills it has drafted for a special session this month.
The two bills, which seek to cap insulin prices and expand telemedicine services during the COVID-19 pandemic, are expected to receive bipartisan support as they move through the state House and Senate in coming weeks, and drew much support from medical practitioners and state residents who came to speak at Tuesday's session.
Rep. Sean Scanlon, D-Guilford, who drafted the 46-page bill addressing insulin caps with Sen. Matt Lesser from Middletown, and who presented a similar version of the bill earlier this year, said the proposed bill would place limits on out-of-pocket costs for thousands of insulin-dependent diabetics, many of whom have seen the price of the life-saving drug rise significantly in recent years. Lesser was not immediately available for comment Tuesday.
Scanlon added that Connecticut's bill is the most progressive in the country, as it proposes to cap the monthly cost of insulin prescriptions at $25. That is lower than the $50 cap proposed in the original version of the bill, and lower than price caps passed by eight other states.
Scanlon said the bill also seeks to cap the monthly cost for insulin-related medical supplies, such as syringes and blood sugar meters, at $100. Under laws passed in Colorado and Illinois, the price of a 30-day supply of insulin is capped at $100, while caps on supplies are not dictated in any other states' laws, he said.
The proposed bill, if passed, will go into effect Jan. 1, 2021, and would only apply to those who are fully insured through private insurers. That's because Scanlon said state laws dictating drug prices cannot legally be applied to those who are self-insured. Patients under Medicaid plans already receive affordable insulin, he said. Between 40% and 50% of state residents are fully insured through private health care plans, he added, while about 250,000 residents are diabetic.
"The cost of insulin is skyrocketing and nothing is happening at the federal level to control the cost of drugs," Scanlon said by phone Tuesday. "People in Connecticut are hurting, and I wanted to put together the strongest possible bill to make this drug affordable in Connecticut."
The American Diabetes Association reported that the average price of insulin has nearly tripled in the U.S. between 2002 and 2013, while the Health Care Cost Institute reported that Type 1 diabetes patients paid an average of $5,705 for insulin in 2016, which is nearly double what they paid in 2012.
Scanlon and those who spoke at Tuesday's session described the dire straits some diabetics go through to obtain the life-saving drug, which they testified is manufactured for less than $10 and sold for hundreds of dollars, as well as the lengths some take to ration the drug, often to devastating effect, due to its high cost.
The bill also includes a provision giving pharmacists the authority to dispense a 30-day supply of insulin without a prescription in emergency situations, Scanlon said, explaining that provision was modeled after a law in Ohio.
Connecticut's bill, however, will dictate that diabetics can only utilize the emergency provision once per year and only if they have less than a seven-day supply of insulin. Connecticut would be the 20th state in the country to pass such legislation.
The proposed bill also seeks to allow anyone in the state having trouble affording insulin to affordably access the drug through the federal 340b Drug Pricing Program by June 2022.
Rep. Holly Cheeseman, R-East Lyme, was the only local legislator to testify during Tuesday's listening session and described her late husband's battle with Type 1 diabetes and end-stage renal disease.
"I know only all too well the terrible toll that Type 1 diabetes can take because I saw it with my late husband," Cheeseman said by phone Tuesday, explaining complications, from kidney and nerve damage to cardiovascular disease, that can arise if insulin is not taken when needed. "None of this has to happen. If you have well-controlled diabetes and if you keep your blood sugar controlled, all those complications won't happen."
"This bill ensures that Connecticut will join other states to protect the health and safety and well-being of the thousands of diabetics in our state. It will prevent so much suffering," she said. "This is a way to save lives, save health and save dollars in the long run."
The second bill the committee drafted for the special session concerning telemedicine seeks to establish a framework for and expand tele-health services for patients through June 30, 2021, among other provisions. It, too, was widely supported during Tuesday's listening session.
If passed, the bill will qualify a variety of different health care professionals to conduct telehealth services and mandate that insurers reimburse health care providers for telehealth visits at the same rate as an in-person visit.
The bill also seeks to expand the state's definition of telemedicine to include audio-only calls, ensuring those without reliable internet or video-calling devices also can receive the care they need over the coming year as the pandemic wears on. Gov. Ned Lamont issued an executive order in March allowing health care providers to conduct appointments with patients via telephone, but it expires in September.
Scanlon said he expects both the insulin-cap and telehealth bills to be further expanded during the next regular session.
Rep. Anthony Nolan, D-New London, who is a member of the Insurance and Real Estate Committee and who was present at Tuesday's session, said he also supports both bills and believes if both are passed, his constituents, as well as residents throughout the state, will have greater access to the health care they need.
Rep. Joe de la Cruz, D-Groton, who is also a member of the Insurance and Real Estate Committee was not available for an interview Tuesday.
Local legislators, which have included Sen. Paul Formica, R-East Lyme; Sen. Cathy Osten, D-Sprague; Sen. Norm Needleman, D-Essex; Rep. Kate Rotella, D-Stonington; Rep. Kevin Ryan, D-Montville, and Rep. Kathleen McCarty, R-Waterford, have told The Day they support both bills and expect both to receive bipartisan support.
The House is expected to deliberate and vote on the two bills, as well as two other bills addressing police accountability and absentee ballots, on Thursday, while the Senate is expected to convene early next week.
(c)2020 The Day (New London, Conn.)
Visit The Day (New London, Conn.) at www.theday.com
Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.