FRANKFORT – The House may consider a wide variety of issues during any given week of a legislative session, but there are times when themes emerge, which is what we saw last week with the passage of two significant bills that that would improve the health of potentially hundreds of thousands of Kentuckians.
The first of those, House Bill 12, received unanimous support, and if enacted, it would limit the patient cost of insulin to $100 for a 30-day supply. Although manufacturers can produce the life-saving drug for $2 to $7 per vial, many diabetics are now spending $1,000 or more a month, forcing some to ration what they have or sacrifice other necessary expenses. That in turn puts them at a higher risk of suffering such serious complications as stroke, losing a limb or going blind.
Three-fourths of the 100-member House sponsored House Bill 12, so there was little doubt that it would pass. Governor Beshear has also put his support behind it, including holding a press conference last week to stress its importance. If it clears the Senate, Kentucky would become the third state – after Colorado and Illinois – to set this price cap. The impact this could have is substantial. It’s estimated than nearly 600,000 Kentuckians are diabetics, and the American Diabetes Association says Kentucky spends about $5 billion annually treating medical conditions tied to the disease. Making insulin more affordable will almost certainly bring that cost down and immeasurably raise the quality of life of thousands of Kentuckians.
Just two days after that vote, the House voted 65-30 to legalize medicinal marijuana in Kentucky, a move that would bring in us in line with more than 30 other states that have taken similar steps.
House Bill 136 builds on their experiences, and if it becomes law, there will be highly specific guidelines put in place. Smoking would not be allowed, and neither would growing marijuana at home. There also would be a limit on what diagnoses would enable patients to qualify. The legislation lays out guidelines for how the plant would be grown, processed and sold, and though there will be fees, they would only be used to establish and run the regulatory framework. There will be no money for general state expenses, mirroring the long-standing policy governing the sale of prescription medicine.
While those two bills generated significant bipartisan support, another to clear committee on Thursday and then pass on the House floor on Friday drew strong opposition from many of my colleagues and me. Those backing House Bill 1 – the low number indicates its high priority for House leaders – say their goal is to reduce public-assistance fraud and to help families as they near what is called the “benefits cliff,” which keeps some from earning more to avoid the added costs they would face if they exceed income requirements.
There are already strict rules in place to monitor and stop this type of fraud, and any misuse of government benefits over $100 is a felony. If you know of anyone committing public-assistance fraud, you can report it anonymously by calling (800) 372-2970.
In short, the net impact of House Bill 1 is three-fold: It would cost millions of tax and private dollars to implement; it would set up a potentially lengthy legal battle when federal courts have already ruled that states cannot override core missions for federally funded assistance programs; and it would effectively establish lifetime bans for relatively minor infractions that could be handled in much more productive and humane ways.
There are unfortunately several other bills this legislative session that are solutions in search of problems that are limited at best. They range from creating new barriers to voting to taking away much of a governor’s authority to decide who oversees the state’s Transportation Cabinet.
My hope is that we will spend fewer hours on those types of bills and more on those that genuinely help Kentuckians. When we come together as we did on medicinal marijuana and affordable insulin, the commonwealth is much better off.
As always, I would like to know your views or concerns about any issue before the General Assembly. You can always reach me by email at Tina.Bojanowski@lrc.ky.gov, and the toll-free message line for all House and Senate members is 1-800-372-7181. That line is open each weekday.