FRANKFORT -- Looking to protect people with diabetes from being overwhelmed by high drug costs, a House committee approved a bill Thursday to cap out-of-pocket costs for many Kentuckians relying on insulin.
The measure cleared the House Health and Family Services Committee without opposition and goes to the full House next. It's co-sponsored by more than 70 lawmakers in the 100-member House.
The push to provide relief for Kentuckians struggling to afford insulin is supported by Gov. Andy Beshear. The new Democratic governor highlighted the issue in his State of the Commonwealth speech last month.
The bill headed to the House would limit out-of-pocket costs at $100 per prescription for a 30-day insulin supply. That cap would apply only to people with commercial health insurance plans.
More than 500,000 people in Kentucky have diabetes.
In the past 14 years, the price of insulin has skyrocketed by more than 550% when adjusted for inflation, said Republican Rep. Danny Bentley, the bill's lead sponsor. Insulin is used by people with diabetes to keep their blood sugar at safe levels.
Insulin needs vary by patient, as do costs -- sometimes depending on insurance coverage. People with diabetes require, on average, two to four vials of insulin per month, according to Marybeth Lacy with the American Diabetes Association, who testified for the measure.
"So when deductibles are high, people with insurance end up paying upwards of $1,200 per month simply to live -- either that or they're skipping doses or rationing their insulin," she said.
Charlotte Whittaker with AARP Kentucky also spoke in favor of the bill, saying people shouldn't have to choose between buying food or life-saving medication.
"Prescription drugs don't work if you can't afford them," she said.
While supporting the bill, Lacy said her group would prefer language that would set the monthly $100 cap for all insulin prescriptions rather than per prescription.
In his State of the Commonwealth speech, Beshear said Kentuckians with diabetes are counting on lawmakers to take steps to curb insulin costs. He described the prices charged by big pharmaceutical companies for insulin as "wrong" and "cruel."
"We must fight back," the governor said.
After the committee hearing, Democratic Rep. Patti Minter said the bill's supporters see it as a "starting point."
"There's a lot more work to do to make sure that everyone has access to the life-saving insulin that they need," said Minter, a co-sponsor of the bill.