A bid in Nevada to force America's three insulin manufacturers to turn over information on the drastically increasing prices of what is a life-sustaining hormone treatment for people with diabetes advanced with bipartisan support on Friday.
The Democratic proposal has transitioned from a first-of-its-kind price control to a measure focused on pricing transparency. But it retains what would be some of the toughest regulations on pharmaceutical companies in the nation.
It would require drugmakers to annually publish the list prices they set and profits they make on insulin, as well as the total amount of insulin discounts they give market middlemen — specific data points currently largely kept confidential.
Sen. Yvanna Cancela, a Las Vegas Democrat, removed a provision of her proposal on Friday that would have also required drugmakers to publish their research and development costs.
Some pharmaceutical companies, including insulin-maker Sanofi SA, have voluntarily released recent data on their price increases.
Market experts say transparency alone won't lower patient costs, but Cancela argues that, if nothing else, detailed pricing data would start a conversation among state and federal lawmakers as well as patients.
"I'm hopeful that, in the process of disclosure, patients will be equipped with information to push back and ask questions related to price gouging and to what happens between the time a drug is with a manufacturer and the time that it gets to an individual," Cancela said after the vote.
An influential organization of industry leaders, Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America, remained opposed to the bill on Friday, spokeswoman Priscilla VanderVeer said.
Industry representatives have argued at the Nevada Legislature that drug rates constantly fluctuate and the market is much more complex than bill supporters claim. Ultimately, they say, the proposal could backfire on patients.
"We will continue to work to educate lawmakers and Nevadans about the dangers of this legislation and the fact that it will not do anything to help Nevada patients access or afford their medicines," VanderVeer said in a statement emailed Friday.
Senators voted 19-2 to pass the bill and send it the state Assembly. Republican Gov. Brian Sandoval has not ruled out signing it.
Several Republican senators said they joined the Democratic majority in favor of the bill because they support the general notion of transparency, but also in the hope it would bode well for a Republican measure on the same subject.
"The transparency is very essential in my mind," said Sen. Scott Hammond, a Las Vegas Republican. "That's what we need for the consumer in this case to receive the benefits of this particular drug we've been spending a lot of time talking about."
In addition to the data-disclosure provisions, Senate Bill 265 would mandate pharmaceutical companies notify the state 90 days before making any changes to insulin prices.
Nonprofit organizations operating in Nevada that advocate on behalf of patients or fund medical research, which could range from local diabetes networks to the American Red Cross, would have to report to the state any donations they receive from pharmaceutical companies, insurance companies or the middlemen who negotiate prices, called pharmacy benefit managers.
In early May, proponents abandoned over concerns about its legality the bill's ambitious provision to require insulin makers to issue refunds to insurance companies and people who purchase insulin if annual price hikes surpass inflation.