June 7, 2022
Back in January, I had an op-ed published in the Gazette-Mail that described how West Virginia legislators of different political parties often work together and find common ground to advance good policy. Unlike that crew in Washington lately.
Yes, legislators often stridently disagree with each other, and the partisan heat is turned high these days. But I have seen West Virginia legislators civilly “agree to disagree” and move on to common ground.
In January, my example of common ground was House Bill 4252. Republicans and Democrats came together to advance a bill to help lower health care costs for insured West Virginians with diabetes.
HB 4252 passed the House and an amended version passed in the Senate during the regular session. The bill required health insurance plans to have:
Copay caps of $35 a month on insulin.
Copay caps of $100 a month on “devices” (“devices” defined as including supplies and enumerated devices).
Cost caps of no more than $250 every two years for an insulin pump.
Nothing controversial here. Nothing to tap the raw emotions of the partisan political “culture wars” of our nation.
The bill was drafted several years ago by a coalition of consumers and medical experts
working closely with Delegate Barbara Evans Fleischauer, a Monongalia County Democrat. The bill that passed in the House was introduced by Delegate Matthew Rohrbach, a Republican from Cabell County. Republicans and Democrats co-sponsored the bill. Changes were made to reflect the input of our state public employee health insurance program, PEIA. I applaud them all for working together.
I am a tough old bird, and it takes a lot to make me cry. Honestly, I shed some tears the night of Saturday, March 12. In the final hours of the legislative session, the bill died. Time ran out to vet late, unrelated amendments to the bill. After several years of work, it was a heart- breaking night for many consumer advocates, medical providers and West Virginians with diabetes.
My colleague and friend Kim Jones, who had worked tirelessly to see the bill pass and whose daughter has diabetes, correctly labeled the bill “a matter of life and death” for many West Virginians. She too was crushed and in tears on March 12.
West Virginia has the second-highest diabetes mortality rate in the country. Sixteen percent of adults (232,000 West Virginians) have diagnosed diabetes; another 45,000 have diabetes but don’t know it, greatly increasing their health risks.
A modern range of technology allows type 1 and type 2 diabetes patients to monitor and regulate blood sugar (glucose) levels and use insulin as necessary. Technology can be expensive. But not as expensive as uncontrolled diabetes for patients and insurers — PEIA and private insurers. Uncontrolled blood sugar levels can lead to tragic trips to the hospital for hyperglycemia and hypoglycemia (high and low blood glucose), ulcers, infections, heart attack and acute kidney failure. Long-term uncontrolled diabetes can result in blindness and limb amputations.
Cost is a key barrier to controlling diabetes for low-income West Virginians.
I believe that all our state legislators can agree that, when a person with diabetes can afford to monitor and regulate their sugar levels, they can stay healthy, avoid expensive health problems and be more productive workers. Diabetes-related cost caps will advance public health and reduce health spending.
Summer is a great time to get work done. Gardens are planted and the investment leads to healthy, delicious meals. My guy and I make repairs around our home that save us money in the long run — like roof patching and fresh paint.
This summer, Republicans and Democrats should get some work done to help West Virginians with diabetes save money. It is time to work together again and finish the job. I know that our Legislature can get it done and finally pass a diabetes copays cap bill.
Consumer health advocates, medical providers and West Virginians with diabetes will be calling on Gov. Jim Justice and Republican and Democrat legislative leadership to add a diabetes cost cap bill to a summer special session agenda. At minimal or no cost to our state, this should be a labor of love for the Legislature that leads to a healthier West Virginia.
Kathleen Stoll is the policy director for West Virginians for Affordable Health Care (wvahc.org) and operates a policy and economic consulting business, Kat Consulting.