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    The hidden heroes in the COVID-19 pandemic face constant risk

The hidden heroes in the COVID-19 pandemic face constant risk

April 16th, 2020|

Special to South King Media
By Sen. Karen Keiser and Rep. Mike Sells

Ever since the coronavirus pandemic hit our shores, the safest course has been to stay home and stay away from others. Unfortunately, not everyone can do that.

The sacrifices of medical professionals and first responders, for whom there is never such a thing as time off during a crisis, are easily recognized by a properly grateful public. But equally courageous are the hidden heroes of the pandemic — the agricultural workers and grocery store employees without whom we would have no food or other essential items.

That cashier ringing up our purchases at the supermarket? She’s stuck there for a full shift, day after day. While we can limit our outings to once-a-week trips for essentials only, and maintain safe distances from those around us when we do, she’s denied those options. The physical constraints of the checkout stand keep her closer than the recommended six feet to the nonstop stream of customers who slowly pass through her line. It’s not much better for her coworkers, who keep the shelves stocked and clean up the spill on aisle 12, or for others whose work cannot be performed online or has not been suspended altogether.

Fortunately, many large supermarkets have worked collaboratively with their employees to adopt practices to reduce their exposure and recognize the risks they face by providing hazard pay. These businesses are calling for all supermarkets to adopt these practices as well, an action we commend. Any employer whose workers’ duties put them at risk of exposure should be rethinking their operations for ways to reduce those risks.

If you’re an employee who thinks you’re being required to work under unsafe or unreasonable circumstances because of the pandemic, go to this link — coronavirus.wa.gov/business-workers/workplace-safety-guidance. You’ll find guidance on workplace conditions, filing a complaint with the state Labor & Industries Department, and many related concerns.

Meanwhile, thousands of other essential workers remain in vulnerable positions during this pandemic and, unlike many of the grocery workers, have no union to advocate for improved safety standards. Whether they work at the gas station, the drugstore, the hardware store or even liquor or marijuana retailers, these employees report every day to workplaces with higher odds of exposure to an on-the-job coronavirus hazard.

Another large group of hidden heroes in this crisis are the agricultural workers who guide our food from the field to the store — and who continue their critical work despite the threat of exposure to coronavirus. With the safety of agricultural workers emerging as a growing concern, we are coordinating with the governor’s office and with representatives of agricultural employers and employees to improve safeguards for these vital workers at the front line of our food chain — and the pandemic.

These workers aren’t the only hidden heroes providing essential services these days, but they are some of the most obvious as we limit our tasks to the very most essential. Whether we get to keep calling all of them heroes, or are forced to grieve for some of them as victims, depends on safe practices and good fortune. As the pandemic progresses, we dearly hope all of them will remain heroes — and not become victims.

Extraordinary times call for extraordinary responses, and the coronavirus crisis has been nothing if not extraordinary. So, too, has been the daily performance and sacrifice of these workers. As we acknowledge their invaluable work in this time of historic crisis, we must similarly prioritize their need for health and safety.

Sen. Karen Keiser (D-Des Moines) chairs the Senate Commerce & Labor Committee and Rep. Mike Sells (D-Everett) chairs the House Labor & Workplace Standards Committee.

Washington’s temporary cap on insulin costs gives state, diabetics time to find permanent solution

March 30th, 2020|

From the Seattle Times

Before the coronavirus pandemic closed most travel between Canada and the United States, a border guard would ask Molly Stenson why she was making a trip to British Columbia just to buy insulin.

Stenson, a Mason County resident with Type 1 diabetes, says officers were usually understanding once she explained that in Canada, Costco sells her lifesaving medication for a fraction of what she would pay in the U.S. — saving her hundreds of dollars a month.

“As long as you aren’t bringing back huge amounts, you’re fine,” said Stenson, 30, adding that skyrocketing prices in the U.S. have led her to ration her medicine. “But I don’t want to push my luck coming back with like 15 vials for a three-month supply.”

From 2012 to 2016, the average price of insulin in the U.S. nearly doubled to about $450 per month, and studies show as many as 25% of diabetics ration their medication — a practice that can lead to kidney failure, blindness and death. But in Canada, Stenson could get her monthly amount for around $100.

Soon, she’ll be able to do the same in Washington. The state Legislature approved a bill this past session to limit out-of-pocket costs at $100 for a month’s supply. Washington is one of few states that have implemented a copay cap. Last year, Colorado was the first state to do so.

But Washington’s cap, which would apply to plans renewed in 2021, is temporary. Many hope state lawmakers can come up with more long-term solutions before the price cap expires in 2023.

The cap is a relief to Stenson, who as a manager of a retail store has health insurance but says the five-hour drive to Canada was still worth the trip.

Despite pushback from insurance companies, including Kaiser Permanente, Regence BlueShield and Premera Blue Cross, the $100 price cap received bipartisan support in the Legislature. Lawmakers heard compelling testimony, including that of an 8-year-old boy whose mother was struggling to afford his insulin.

In Washington, about 686,000 people have diabetes, and an estimated 226,300 rely on insulin. In 2017, diabetes was the seventh leading cause of death in the state, according to the Department of Health (DOH).

“Changes are good that we all know someone with diabetes,” said Colleen Thompson, legislative affairs director for the DOH. “And this disease is forever.”

Thompson also noted that those with diabetes, on average, are hit with higher health-care costs, which can “compete with other costs, such as feeding your family or paying household bills.”

“It could be that the insurance companies might have a little more money to pick up because of that cost cap,” said Sen. Karen Keiser, D-Des Moines, who sponsored the bill. “I really don’t care at this point.”

Keiser said she’s happy with what got passed, as it creates the “infrastructure” to find more permanent solutions in the next two years. It also calls for creation of an insulin work group, tasked with reviewing and designing strategies to reduce the cost of and total expenditures on insulin in the state

Mel Sorenson, representing America’s Health Insurance Plans, testified against setting price limits for drug purchasers, arguing that price-fixing strategies “despite good intentions, rarely actually work.”

In testifying against a $100 copay cap, a representative for Kaiser Permanente argued that insurance companies, who will have to foot the rest of the bill, may be forced to raise premiums.

A drug distributor or wholesaler will also be on the work group, as will representatives from health-plan carriers and an individual with diabetes.

Keiser said she expects the group members to work in their own interests, but that the state needs their expertise to understand how the health-care system works.

Kevin Wren, a Type 1 diabetic and insulin advocate, will represent people with diabetes and is happy to do so but noted he’ll be the only patient on the panel, in contrast to several seats reserved for those in the health-care industry.

He also argued that while a $100 cap would have prevented him from rationing insulin earlier in life, that price still isn’t low enough.

One study estimated that a year’s supply of insulin could be profitably manufactured and sold for less than $133.

“Manufacturers are still making hookah bucks off of the $100 cap,” Wren said.

As for Stenson, she says she has lots of friends who are Type 1 like her. She says having to shell out hundreds of dollars just to stay alive each month gives them a bond. But a lot of those friends are in states without a price cap, and aren’t able to make the trip to Canada.

And now that border crossings to Canada have been restricted due to coronavirus fears, Stenson is scrambling to figure out how and where to get her prescription, including asking friends in other countries to ship it to her.

“It does frustrate me,” Stenson said. “Something bigger needs to be done.”

By Claudia Yaw

Legislators request unemployment assistance for independent contractors

March 25th, 2020|

From the Bellevue Reporter

The Senate and House Democratic caucuses have requested that the federal government unlock disaster unemployment assistance for thousands of independent contractors in Washington who are losing work during the coronavirus pandemic.

Sen. Karen Keiser (D-Des Moines), who authored the letter, said:

“The American workplace has changed and thousands of workers who are independent contractors—from hairdressers to high tech coders—do not qualify for unemployment benefits,” Keiser said in a Washington State Senate Democrats news release on March 24. “During this public health crisis that is a hardship they should not be forced to endure.”

The full text of the letter:

Dear Members of the Washington State Congressional Delegation:

In these uncertain times, we need to act to protect all workers, especially those who don’t have access to unemployment insurance assistance. These workers include those considered by employers to be independent contractors in the gig economy and those who are self-employed. We are hearing from these workers about the economic difficulties caused by the coronavirus pandemic. This threatens their livelihoods and the strength of the broader economy.

Therefore, on behalf of the Senate and House Democratic Caucuses, we ask the Congressional Delegation to work with the Administration to ensure that Disaster Unemployment Assistance (DUA) can be applied to pandemics in the same manner as to natural disasters when a federal emergency is declared. This will enable more Americans to have access to Unemployment Insurance (UI) without some of the standard eligibility requirements.

Disaster Unemployment Assistance would provide financial assistance to individuals whose employment or self-employment has been lost or interrupted as a direct result of a major disaster and who are not eligible for regular unemployment insurance benefits.

When a major disaster has been declared by the President, DUA is generally available to any unemployed worker or self-employed individual who lived, worked, or was scheduled to work in the disaster area at the time of the disaster; and who, due to the disaster:

* no longer has a job or a place to work

* cannot reach the place of work

* cannot work due to damage to the place of work

* cannot work because of an injury caused by the disaster.

DUA benefits are payable to individuals for up to 26 weeks after the date the disaster was declared by the President.

While the President approved Washington’s request to declare a major disaster in Washington related to COVID-19, the Administration is still considering the request to activate DUA as part of the declaration. We urge the Congressional Delegation to request the Administration unlock these vital benefits for our workers and businesses.

We understand the tremendous challenges you face in responding to the coronavirus crisis. Access to these additional benefits will make sure businesses and workers have a greater ability to get through this challenging situation. Thank you for considering this path to extend a safety net for our constituents who are considered independent contractors and who are self-employed and shore up our country’s economy during this uncertain time.

Sincerely,

Senator Karen Keiser

Chair, Labor & Commerce Committee

Representative Mike Sells

Chair, Labor & Workplace Standards Committee

Senator Andy Billig

Majority Leader, State Senate

Representative Laurie Jenkins

Speaker, State House of Representatives

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    Legislature passes Keiser bills to cap insulin costs, curb drug prices

Legislature passes Keiser bills to cap insulin costs, curb drug prices

March 10th, 2020|

From the Kent Reporter

With final Senate votes Monday, two bills sponsored by Sen. Karen Keiser, D-Des Moines, to curb sharply rising prescription drug prices have now passed the Legislature with broad bipartisan support and will go to the governor for his signature.

“Prescription drug costs are out of control,” Keiser said. “Our constituents can’t wait. The taxpayers can’t wait. This is a major step forward to cut the prices that patients have to pay.

“We have a responsibility to keep vital prescriptions affordable. I’ve been working for months with a broad range of stakeholders on this legislation, and I’m pleased that it has attracted bipartisan support.”

The bills that the Senate passed today take on insulin costs as well as costs for the most expensive prescriptions and those that are increasing in price the fastest.

SB 6087 will cap out-of-pocket cost to patients for insulin at $100 per month. It passed unanimously on a vote of 48-0.

SB 6088 will establish a prescription drug affordability board that would review prices and price increases to shine a spotlight on areas where pharmaceutical companies are putting profits ahead of people’s health. It passed on a vote of 31-17.

The Prescription Drug Affordability Board will determine whether the costs of a high-priced drug significantly exceed the value it provides to patients. If the board determines that the cost is not excessive, then it will simply recommend ways to make the drug more accessible to patients. If the board determines that the cost is excessive, it will ask the drug manufacturer to reduce the cost of the drug. If the manufacturer refuses, the board will post online the value that it calculates the drug actually has.

In addition, the bill requires the board to provide the newly created Health Care Cost Transparency Board (HB 2457) with tools to establish cost growth benchmarks for prescription drugs.

A third Keiser proposal, SB 6113, would have created a centralized purchasing process for insulin based on the approach used by the state to purchase childhood vaccines. It did not pass, but the policy was incorporated in amended form into HB 2662. That bill creates the Total Cost of Insulin Work Group, which will examine various strategies to bring down the cost of insulin long-term, including the possibility of creating a central purchasing plan.

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    AARP applauds passage of bills aimed at lowering the cost of prescription drugs

AARP applauds passage of bills aimed at lowering the cost of prescription drugs

March 7th, 2020|

From the Washington State Wire

Bills aimed at making prescriptions drugs more affordable passed in both the House and Senate today.

AARP Advocacy Director Cathy MacCaul released the following statement in response to today’s Senate Passage of House Bill 2662, and House passage of Senate Bill 6087 and Senate Bill 6088.

Today’s strong bipartisan passage of House Bill 2662 by the Senate, and House passage of Senate Bills 6087 and 6088 shows Washington legislators are choosing to put their constituents’ interests ahead of pharmaceutical company greed.

For too long, Washingtonians have been struggling to afford the lifesaving medications they need, while big drug companies continue to rake in billions. Even though insulin has been around for almost a century, the cost of the diabetes drug has skyrocketed in recent years, nearly tripling between 2002 and 2013, according to a study from the American Diabetes Association.

We commend Representative Jacquelin Maycumber (R-7) and Senator Karen Keiser (D-33) for their leadership, and all those who voted for the measure for taking a stand against drug company price gouging. House Bill 2662 will cap out-of-pocket costs to patients for insulin at $100 per month, and will create a centralized purchasing process for insulin based on the approach used by the state to purchase childhood vaccines.  Senate Bill 6087 will likewise cap out-of-pocket insulin costs at $100 per month.

According to a recent AARP survey, nearly half of Washington adults who report using insulin for themselves or a family member say their out-of-pocket spending on insulin has increased in the last four years.  As a result, about 20 percent (of respondents or their family) have had to make adjustments such as cutting back on necessities like food, fuel and electricity (24%), taking less medication than what is prescribed (21%), or skipping a dose to save money (18%).

Those types of decisions are a life and death gamble for people like Tina Ghosn from Snoqualmie. Ghosn has three children with type 1 diabetes. Even with good employer insurance, insulin costs her family $500 a month out of pocket. Ghosn says that over the years, they’ve spent upwards of $30,000 out of pocket on the drug.

‘The pharmaceutical companies are holding people hostage at this point because there’s nothing we can do except pay the money,’ said Ghosn. ‘Without insulin, my kids would die. You can’t live without insulin so it’s never a choice.”

AARP is also applauding today’s House passage of Senate Bill 6088 creating a Prescription Drug Affordability Board. This Board will give our state the ability to evaluate drug prices and set limits on how much certain payers, including state agencies, will pay for high-cost prescription medications. If the cost of select medications exceed certain thresholds, the Board will have the opportunity to conduct an affordability review, which would require manufacturers to justify the price increase or high launch price.

Washingtonians have been speaking out loud and clear about the need for prescription drug cost relief, and the passage of these bills shows their elected lawmakers are listening. We commend them for their support, and look forward to Governor Inslee signing the measures in to law.” 

By Michael Goldberg

Legislature Addresses High Cost of Insulin

March 6th, 2020|

From the Western Front

The Washington state legislature passed four major bills on Wednesday, Feb. 19 that would address the high costs of insulin and other prescription drugs.

The next step is to pass the bills through the House of Representatives, where it will then go to Gov. Jay Inslee’s desk, Sen. Karen Keiser said. Kaiser said the bills, if passed, would most likely take effect in July.

Two of the bills would cap the cost of a month’s supply of insulin at $100. The bills would expire on Jan. 1, 2023, and are meant to provide short-term relief while the legislature searches for a long-term solution.

Another one of the bills would create a drug affordability board to identify prescription drugs at high prices and set price limits on these drugs for state purchasers.

“[The drug affordability board would] look at the way that the different pieces of the market work together to increase prices and push back on the different players,” Keiser said.

For example, people with multiple sclerosis pay $70,000 to $90,000 a year for their medications, Keiser said.

“Those are the kinds of really extraordinary costs that we could focus in on and put pressure on drug manufacturers,” Keiser said.

The last bill would create a centralized insulin-purchasing program, modeled after the state’s current Childhood Vaccine Program. The program would try to use the state’s purchasing power to lower drug costs, Keiser said.

Hannah Jones, a Type 1 diabetic and president of Western’s chapter of the College Diabetes Network, supports the bills. Jones said she often worries about what will happen when she ages out of her parent’s insurance program and has to pay for insulin herself.

“I was paying $250 a month for insulin. For some people that’s like a paycheck,” Jones said. “You’re damaging your livelihood just because you can’t afford a simple drug to keep you alive.”

Megan Whitsell, the program coordinator for PeaceHealth’s Nutrition & Diabetes Clinic, said they have a lot of clients who cross the border to Canada to buy insulin at a cheaper cost. She also said there were a lot of clients who bought insulin at Walmart for about $25.

This can be problematic because the Walmart brand of insulin does not work as well as the insulin the doctor prescribes, Whitsell said. She added that taking a different kind of insulin can change the way a person manages their diabetes and there can be risks for some patients.

A study conducted at Yale Diabetes Center from June to August 2017 surveyed patients asking if they had rationed their insulin in the past six months. Out of the 199 people, 51 — around one in four — said they had rationed their insulin before.

“The more people have to ration their insulin and have their blood sugar not under very good control, it just sets them up for all these other health problems,” said Tracy Rabin, a researcher in the study and associate director of Yale’s Office of Global Health.

Poor blood sugar can damage the eyes, kidneys and nerves, which can lead to blindness, kidney disease and foot pain, Rabin said. Uncontrolled diabetes puts people at a higher risk for having strokes and heart attacks.

Rabin said the data in the study does not necessarily apply to the general population. Demographics play a role and Medicaid benefits vary from state to state.

“Something [in Medicaid] that is true for patients in Connecticut will not necessarily be the same as in another state,” Rabin said.

Jones said while she supports the bill that would cap insulin at $100, she thinks more can be done by also fighting the cost of diabetes medical devices.

She said without insurance, she would pay about $4,000 for an insulin pump and glucose meter, which both only last about 90 days.

Carly McGuire, a Type 1 diabetic, agreed with Jones and said she would like to see medical equipment costs go down as well, not just insulin.

“I think that people don’t really think about the other expenses that go into it,” McGuire said. “When you’re not helping with the cost of devices and needles, everything else that goes into it, it’s not going to be as effective as it could be.”

McGuire said when she was on injections, she had to test her blood sugar a lot. The test strips that she used were $60 and only lasted about 10 days.

“We, as a country, are not paying attention to pharmaceutical companies sort of raising the prices on these medications that are really necessary,” Rabin said. “Making them unaffordable for people is something that can cost a lot of people their lives.”

By Izzie Lund

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    Pregnancy discrimination bill sparked by Google employee’s complaint passes legislature

Pregnancy discrimination bill sparked by Google employee’s complaint passes legislature

March 5th, 2020|

From The Seattle Times

A bill that was sparked by a Seattle woman’s allegations of pregnancy discrimination at Google passed both the Washington House and Senate with broad bipartisan support and is slated to be signed into law.

Senate Bill 6034 would update the Washington Law Against Discrimination to give a pregnant woman, or new mother, one year instead of six months to file a complaint with the Washington Human Rights Council.

“It takes nine months or more to have a baby, but right now, expectant mothers only have six months to file a discrimination complaint,” said the bill’s sponsor, Sen. Karen Keiser, D-Des Moines, in a statement. “That doesn’t make sense.”

Former Google employee Chelsey Glasson resigned at the end of her maternity leave after posting a memo on an internal message board, titled “I’m Not Returning to Google After Maternity Leave, and Here is Why,” that was widely read both inside and outside the company.

According to the complaint filed with the state human rights council and the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, the University of Washington graduate claims she lost her career trajectory at Google when she stood up for a pregnant coworker, then suffered retaliation and discrimination herself when she became pregnant.

“People need to know that pregnancy discrimination is a very real thing that families continue to experience,” Glasson said Thursday morning.

Glasson, who testified in support of Keiser’s legislation, started as a Level 3 user experience (UX) researcher at Google in 2013 and over the next few years was rated “superb” and promoted several times, the complaint says.

When she became a manager, she became worried that a director was trying to “manage” a pregnant employee off the team. She took her concerns to Human Resources, and the director about whom she’d complained began a campaign of retaliation that included poor performance ratings and denial of leadership opportunities, the complaint alleges.

Glasson said that during her second pregnancy, her new director and manager told her they were concerned her upcoming maternity leave would “stress the team” and “rock the boat,” and so she would not be taking on management responsibilities until after her return.

According to Keiser, studies show that mothers are half as likely to be called back for interviews as non-mothers, and mothers who are hired are likely to be offered an average of $11,000 less per year in salary.

Glasson said the bill, which passed its final hurdle Wednesday with a vote of 95-1 in the House, will be helpful to others in her situation.

“What I’ve learned from my experience,” she said, “is that when pregnancy discrimination does happen, it’s incredibly difficult to fight.”

By Christine Clarridge

Bill would lower cost of insulin in Washington

February 27th, 2020|

From the Wahkiakum County Eagle

Bringing down the cost of insulin for people with diabetes is the goal behind two Senate bills and one House bill have been passed by the Washington state legislature.

Senate bill 6087 and House bill 2662 both cap the cost of insulin for patients at $100 per month, while Senate bill 6113 appoints the Northwest Prescription Drug Consortium as the single purchaser of insulin in Washington state.

“Currently, the cost of insulin is breaking budgets, threatening lives, and, in some cases, even costing lives,” said Sen. Karen Keiser, D-Kent, the primary sponsor for the two Senate bills.

According to a report by the Health Care Cost Institute, the amount of money spent on insulin by Americans with type 1 diabetes almost doubled between 2012 and 2016.

In Washington state, “those enrolled in the consumer driven health plan pay an average of $206 per month,” on insulin, according to the Senate Bill report on SB 6087.

Rep. Jacquelin Maycumber, R-Republic, the primary sponsor of HB 2662, says her son was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes last year.

“Those children have to go to bed at night, and not just worry about the stigma of having a chronic disease … they worry about having the money to pay for medication,” Maycumber said.

Some lawmakers opposed the Senate bills because of uncertainty surrounding the reason for insulin price increases. Concerns were also raised by some insurance industry representatives on the effect the caps would have on premiums.

“We need to know what is happening that is increasing that cost to the extent that it is making it impossible for people to pay those prices,” said Sen. Randi Becker, R-Eatonville.

“This would do nothing but pass on these additional costs to other people paying the premiums,” Becker said.

HB 2662 would put a cap on insulin costs for only two years if put into effect.

SB 6087 and SB 6113 were passed by the Senate Tuesday, Feb. 18, with a vote of 34-14 and 28-20, respectively. HB 2662 was passed by the House Wednesday, Feb. 19, with a vote of 97-1.

Provisions in these bills would have to be signed into law by Gov. Jay Inslee to take effect.

By Leona Vaughn

 

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    Patient advocates’ call to action: Speak up now about out-of-control prescription costs

Patient advocates’ call to action: Speak up now about out-of-control prescription costs

February 26th, 2020|

From KOMO News

If you’re faced with rising prescription prices for medication you can’t go without, local patient advocates say this is the time to make your voice heard.

Washington state lawmakers are getting an earful about all kinds of proposed legislation this week as time runs to keep the bills alive.

One of the critical bills at stake will rein in what patient advocates call the out-of-control price increases for insulin – if lawmakers can keep it in play.

The proposed insulin cost-sharing bill (SB 6087) would cap insulin costs at $100 for a 30-day supply for patients with insurance plans that cover insulin drugs.

Despite strong support among many state lawmakers, consumer advocate Cathy MacCaul, the advocacy director at AARP, says if you struggle with rising drug prices, contact your state representatives now.

“The legislature has so many competing priorities,” she said. “There’s so many other bills out there of concern and issue. And we also have the pharmaceutical industry that is fighting these bills. So it’s really important for consumers not to stop raising the issue that affordability of prescription drugs needs to be a top priority for our state legislature.”

The pharmaceutical industry says it offers rebates and other assistance to people who need help paying for medication.

Drug companies opposing SB 6087 and similar drug price bills insist there are other factors and other industries- that play a role in rising drug prices.

People on both sides are making a final push now, because this is one of the bills that advocates say must get a final nod by a key committee this week in order to move on.

By Connie Thompson

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    Washington lawmakers consider restrictions on insulin prices

Washington lawmakers consider restrictions on insulin prices

February 25th, 2020|

From the Spokesman-Review

Eight-year-old Levi Markland told lawmakers Tuesday he’s not supposed to worry about dying, but he does.

Levi has Type 1 diabetes and his family spends up to $1,000 a month on insulin.

Diabetes is unpredictable, expensive and cruel, said Amber Markland, Levi’s mom, who was sitting next to him as they testified at a House Health Care and Wellness Committee hearing.

The Olympia mother of three described the difficulty of “knowing that if you spend one extra cent you might not be able to afford the medicine that keeps someone you love alive.”

Coverage for insulin prescriptions would not be subjected to any deductibles under a bill being considered by the committee, and a subscriber’s out-of-pocket expenses for insulin couldn’t top $100 a month starting Jan. 1. The Health Care Authority would also be required to monitor the price of insulin in Washington.

Around 90,000 residents filled 771,000 insulin prescriptions in 2018, a 15% increase since 2014, according to the All Payer Claims Database, and that data doesn’t account for people on Veterans Administration and some self-insured plans.

“It is a life-and-death issue, and we can do something about it,” said Sen. Karen Keiser, D-Des Moines, the bill’s sponsor.

Health plans could submit a request for a $5 increase to out-of-pocket expenses for every $100 increase of insulin starting on Jan. 1, 2022, according to the bill.

Cathy McCaul, AARP advocacy director, said that 70% of Washington residents they polled found it difficult to pay for medication, including insulin.

Kevin Wren, chapter leader of Washington Insulin For All, said he has rationed his insulin his whole life, whether he had insurance or was unemployed, leading to other health complications.

“All diabetics need our insulin,” he said. “Without it, our food is poison and we die in a couple of days without it – painfully.”

Amber said everyone needs insulin to live but most people manufacture their own, internally. Levi has to pay for his.

“Pharmaceutical companies put a price tag on Levi’s life,” she said.

Levi urged committee members to pass the bill so families like his can “live with less worry and more time to love each other.”

The bill already passed the Senate on a bipartisan vote and is scheduled for a committee vote Thursday.

By Daisy Zavala