Affordable insulin bill fails in North Dakota Senate

Dylan Sherman

BISMARCK—After passionate debate, a proposal to cap insulin costs for some North Dakotans failed by a margin of 21-26 on Feb. 22.

Senate Bill 2183 would have capped insulin costs for those enrolled in the Public Employees Retirement System to $25 for a 30-day supply.

Sen. Tim Mathern, D-Fargo, said that although the bill was defeated, he believes public support from all over the state shows how important an issue it is.

Insulin makers have raised prices more than 500% since 2001.

As a member of the Senate Appropriations Committee, Mathern said he will see House Bill 1012, which is the bill for the Human Resource Department budget. "I plan to do what I can to figure out how to move the agenda through that budget bill," he said. "There are just different ways to address this issue and that would be one."

Mathern said another option would be working with the insurance commissioner, to try and get the issue resolved.

"There is more than one way to accomplish the public purpose," he said.

During debate, Mathern said the bill could mean life or death for North Dakotans living with Type I diabetes. “Without access to insulin, people die,” he said. “I learned about people not going to college, or going to college, based on whether or not they had insulin.”

After D.j. Mattern lost her health insurance earlier this year, she turned to an underground network to secure insulin for her Type 1 diabetes before recently qualifying for Medicaid. At home in Denver, Mattern displays her insulin pens.

Sen. JoNell Bakke, D-Grand Forks, said the bill was important to help those who are required to use insulin to live.

“I’m sorry if this would cause a problem for private insurance companies, but I would think the life or death of one of our citizens would be worth a little inconvenience in their having to figure out how this would work,” she said.

However, senators against the bill felt the legislation would not be as beneficial as intended.

5. Diabetes     • Common symptoms:  Slow-healing sores, extreme hunger, thirst     • Confirmation tests:  Glycated hemoglobin (A1C) test, blood sugar test     • Treatment:  Insulin, monitoring blood sugar

Sen. Kristin Roers, R-Fargo, said the bill would not change the price of insulin for most people who need it.

“All of the major health insurers, who this would affect, have already changed this,” she said. “So the bill actually ends up affecting virtually no one.”

Roers said opposition to this bill came from senators questioning if this was the right way to regulate the insurance industry.

“Is this the way that we really want to legislate, from a philosophical perspective?” she said.

Sen. Judy Lee, R-West Fargo, said the individual insurance plans through employers are not able to be touched by this bill.

K. William Boyer is the Managing Editor of the Devils Lake News Journal. He can be reached at kboyer@gannett.com, or by phone at (701) 662-2127.  

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