People with asthma could be able to breathe easier — literally and figuratively.
HF348 would require health plans to limit patient co-pays to no more than $25 per one-month supply for prescription drugs used to treat chronic diseases such as asthma, diabetes, and allergies requiring the use of epinephrine auto-injectors, or EpiPens.
Rep. Michael Howard (DFL-Richfield) said it’s “unconscionable” these life-saving drugs for Minnesotans are at the mercy of the high prices set by drug manufacturers. He noted insulin makers have tripled the price of insulin in the last 10 years.
“We know that Minnesotans are struggling, and that this change would drastically help both their bottom lines and their health,” he said.
The House Commerce Finance and Policy Committee approved the bill, as amended, on a split-voice vote Monday and sent it to the House Health Finance and Policy Committee.
Total co-pays would be capped at $50 per month for all related medical supplies to administer prescription drugs such as syringes, asthma inhalers, insulin pens, insulin pumps and test strips, glucometers, and continuous glucose monitors.
Howard said the bill is a natural extension of the Alec Smith Insulin Affordability Act, a 2020 law requiring most manufacturers of insulin to establish procedures to make insulin available to eligible individuals who are in urgent need of insulin or need access to an affordable insulin supply.
The act is named for 26-year-old Alec Smith, who was unable to afford the $1,300 monthly cost of insulin and diabetes supplies and died rationing insulin after aging out of his parents’ insurance.
Bill opponents said it has hidden costs that would make it ineffective in controlling drug costs in the long term.
“Unfortunately, passing this bill does not reduce the prices of these medications, and capping co-pays will mean costs will be shifted to premiums or cost-sharing for others,” said Dan Endreson, senior director of policy and government affairs at the Minnesota Council of Health Plans.
Howard said experiences of more than 20 other states that have enacted similar legislation show otherwise, and that premium increases would be “negligible.”
He cited a Department of Commerce actuarial analysis on how an identical bill he sponsored in 2022 would affect premiums. Released last month, it concluded that average monthly premiums would rise by $1 in the first year, and by $1.34 per month at year 10.
Howard said the bill would also lead to tangible “downstream savings” on health care spending. “We will see better disease management if Minnesotans can afford their prescription drugs.”
There would be fewer costly hospitalizations — and tragedies such as the death of Alec Smith — resulting from patients rationing their drug doses or skipping them altogether, he said.