Insurance companies beat rural Coloradans in pharmacy fight

Terri Newland of Basalt put a thermometer in her mailbox on Wednesday morning. It read 42 degrees. By 4 p.m. the thermometer had shot up to 104 degrees. By summer, those temperatures will be much higher. For her husband, who has diabetes and depends on mail-order insulin, that’s dangerous.

That’s why she wanted lawmakers to pass a proposal this week that would allow her and thousands of other rural Coloradans to go to their local pharmacies to refill daily medications.

But House Bill 16-1361 failed to gain support from the Republican majority on the legislature’s Senate Finance Committee and died Friday.

Under the bill, patients — not insurance companies — would choose where to shop for medications. If a pharmacy falls outside of an insurance company’s network, there would be no additional charges foisted on the patient. Out-of-network pharmacies would have to agree to the insurance company’s reimbursements.

Newland’s husband’s insurance plan requires he purchase his insulin refills through a mail-order pharmacy.

Insulin has to be refrigerated. And waiting for those refills to show up in the mail puts her husband’s health at risk, Newland told the Finance Committee last week. If the insulin sits for hours in their mailbox, it ruins it. Sometimes it takes weeks for those refills to show up, which also puts her husband’s health in jeopardy. They recently found one of his prescriptions in a ditch.

Newland pleaded with the committee during the Thursday hearing to allow her to go to her local pharmacy to get those refills.

“This isn’t a retail issue,” she said. “It’s a matter of life and death.”

The measure’s main opponent is ExpressScripts, the nation’s largest company managing pharmacy benefits for insurance providers and subscribers. Lobbyist Patrick Boyle told the Finance Committee that passing the measure will drive up costs for health insurers and for their patients, too.

The bill drew intense lobbying on both sides of the issue when it went through the House. It passed the Senate State, Veterans and Military Affairs Committee on April 26 on a 4-1 vote, with Sen. Owen Hill of Colorado Springs in opposition.

But Hill also sits on the Finance Committee, where Republicans tossed up roadblocks on the bill. Hill told The Colorado Independent a “free-market solution” would be a better way of dealing with the issue, although he spent much of last Thursday attempting to find a solution with the the bill’s sponsors, Sens. Jerry Sonnenberg of Sterling and Linda Newell of Littleton

Friday, Hill said he could not support the bill, but committed to Sonnenberg and Newell that he would make finding a solution a priority for next year. The bill died on a 3-2 party-line vote.


Photo credit: Rodrigo Senna, Creative Commons, Flickr

has been a political journalist since 1998. She covered the state capitol for the Silver & Gold Record from 1998 to 2009 and for The Colorado Statesman in 2010-11 and 2013-14. Since 2010 she also has covered the General Assembly for newspapers in northeastern Colorado. She was recognized with awards from the Colorado Press Association for feature writing and informational graphics for her work with the Statesman in 2012.


  1. It is always the republicans who vote against what is good for the rest of us…It is always the same…The GOP of Colorado should change their name to the Koch Party of Corruption….

  2. Please vote YES for amendment 69 this November. Give the state a chance to negotiate prices and care instead of kowtowing to the insurance companies!

  3. SINGLE GODDAMNED PAYER NOW!!! It’s time for health care to be taken OUT of the political realm and put back in MEDICINE where it belongs. Why are we allowing POLITICIANS to make medical decisions for us? Are THEY doctors? NOPE. Why are they allowed to paractice medicine on us? Last I checked, practicing medicine without a license was ILLEGAL, and yet we let POLITICIANS do it to us all freaking day long.

    And isn’t it funny how it’s ALWAYS the blasted republicans who keep us from having the things we ned, even just to stay alive? And they want MY vote? DREAM ON, VERMIN! My goal in life is to rid the ENTIRE COUNTRY of YOU! We’ll all be FAR better off without you screwing us for fun and profit.

    VOTE! It’s the one thing that republicans can’t deal with. TIME FOR THEM TO GO! PERMANENTLY!

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