Affordable insulin bill fails in North Dakota Senate

Senate Bill 2183 failed 21-26 after a lengthy debate on the Senate floor Feb. 22

By Dylan Sherman, NDNAEF

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.

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.”

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.

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.

“[The bill] does not affect employer-funded programs, established by the business for their employees,” she said. “Those particular policies are exempt from any mandate either from the Affordable Care Act or from the state.”

Lee said at least 40% of the population in North Dakota is covered by independent employer-provided health policies. 

“We can’t fix those,” she said. “Those are the ones, in most of these cases, responsible for what is going on.”