Larry Hausner: A misguided proposal that sets Nevada back in fight against diabetes
Diabetes is one of the most prevalent chronic diseases in Nevada. More than 12 percent of Nevadans have diabetes and, in 2012, diabetes was the seventh leading cause of death in the state. Legislative leaders could work to help address the diabetes epidemic in Nevada, yet some in Carson City are pursuing ill-advised policies. When I recently read SB 265, a state bill that aims to tackle drug costs for people with diabetes, it became quite clear to me our public officials, while well intentioned in their desire to help patients, don’t realize what is truly driving the costs associated with the disease.
Caring for people with diabetes involves more than what they pay for insulin or another medication. In fact, most of the medical costs a person living with diabetes incurs has to do with other ailments, but having diabetes increases complexity of treatment and the costs of treatment with it. Also, diabetes seldom occurs alone. It’s often accompanied by complications relating to high blood pressure, dyslipidemia, heart failure, kidney disease, and obesity. The complications relating to diabetes are the leading causes of lower limb amputations not relating to accidents or trauma and blindness.
Proponents of SB 265, led by some unions, casinos, and big health insurers, assert price controls will help lower drug costs for patients. That simply isn’t the case. The proposal sets arbitrary price limits on certain diabetes medicines, with a focus on insulin, and requires drug makers to pay health insurance companies the difference. In fact, multiple witnesses at a recent hearing for the bill stated there’s no guarantee patients will benefit. Even the bill’s sponsor indicated there’s much work yet to be done and the language is intentionally vague because it’s unclear how the legislation might actually work. If this bill goes through, patients would pay the same for medications, insurers would increase their profits, and drug companies would have less reason and capital to invest in the innovative drugs for diabetes that are desperately needed. This is concerning.
The number of people diagnosed with diabetes has tripled in the last three decades. This increase means more patients need high-quality care, including different medication options, to help manage their disease. Innovative treatments, including oral medications and new forms of insulin, are absolutely critical. Unfortunately, SB 265 singles out diabetes patients, creates the high probability of access restrictions, and undermines their overall needs. With SB 265, patients would have fewer options when it comes to fully managing their disease and, as a result, every Nevadan would pay the price.
Instead of restricting access to care, Nevada should be exploring public policies that help us get in front of rising diabetes rates through prevention and actions to reduce the toll of diabetes on those already affected. This can be accomplished through greater access to innovative care, education and awareness initiatives, and bringing all stakeholders to the table to work together to reverse the growth in diabetes prevalence.
Patients must have information needed to choose the right insurance plan to help achieve positive results. Insulin research must continue to evolve, allowing patients superior control, less frequent injections, and better outcomes.
As a lifelong patient advocate, I know Nevadans expect more out of their elected officials.
Larry Hausner was chief executive officer of the American Diabetes Association from 2007 to 2014. He served as chief operating officer for The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society, and also worked for 15 years at the National Multiple Sclerosis Society. He currently serves on the Research America Board and Executive Committee and is chairman of the Campaign for Medical Discovery. In 2010, he received the Impact Award from the Invisible Disabilities Association for leading the charge in helping people living with diabetes through local and national education, research and support.