A state senator representing part of Eastern Kentucky has sponsored two bills this legislative session that aim to address high treatment costs affecting hundreds of thousands of Kentuckians with diabetes.

31st Dist. state Sen. Phillip Wheeler, a Republican representing Elliott, Lawrence, Martin, Morgan and Pike counties, is the sole sponsor of Senate Bill 69 and 23, two bills that aim to help Kentuckians with diabetes afford their necessary insulin doses. The bills were introduced to the Senate on Jan. 7 and were brought before committee on Jan. 8.

SB 69 would cap the cost-sharing requirements for prescription insulin at $100 for a 30-day supply and would require the state employee health plan to comply, starting on Jan. 1, 2021. Similar bills were passed in states like Colorado and Illinois in 2019.

“What is significant about this bill is that in the U.S., we have seen the price of insulin increase by 400-600 percent since it was created, and insulin is a drug that’s been on the market since the 1920s,” Wheeler said, referring to SB 69 and adding that Frederick Banting, inventor and co-developer of insulin, sold the patent for only $1. “I don’t think there’s any justification for that cost.”

SB 23 would establish an insulin assistance program by Jan. 1, 2012, for Kentuckians who require emergency supplies of insulin, and they would qualify for the program based on financial need. Pharmacy participation in the program would be voluntary, and each participating pharmacy that dispensed the insulin products would be reimbursed.

The average price of insulin in the U.S. increased from about $234 a month in 2012 to about $450 a month in 2016, according to the Health Care Institute. The cost to produce a vial of insulin, however, is between $2-7, according to Business Insider.

Wheeler said a few of his constituents from Pike County and Morgan County who are affected by diabetes reached out to him about the escalating costs of insulin, and he worked with organizations like “Kentucky #insulin4all,” a chapter of T1International, to create the bills.

The high costs of insulin have caused thousands of people in Kentucky and nationwide to ration their insulin every month. One of the constituents, Wheeler said, told him that she had to choose between paying her electric bill and affording her son’s insulin.

Insulin helps people with diabetes regulate their higher-than-normal glucose levels, and without it, they might suffer life-threatening conditions, like high blood pressure, kidney disease and stroke, according to the American Diabetes Association.

“I don’t think that’s a choice that any person should have to make,” Wheeler said. “That’s just not right.”

Kentucky ranks seventh highest in the country for diabetes prevalence. The number of adults in Kentucky with diagnosed diabetes between 2000 and 2017 more than doubled, from about 198,000 diagnosed adults to 442,500, or 1 in 8 adults, according to Kentucky’s Cabinet for Health and Family Services.

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