MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — West Virginia residents will be able to access life-saving medicines when their supply runs out, the prescription is expired and the doctor can’t be reached to OK it, under a new law that takes effect Thursday.
HB 2524, which passed both legislative houses unanimously last session and was signed into law by the governor, grants pharmacists the discretion to fill those prescriptions under specified conditions.
Local legislators, doctors and patients gathered Wednesday at the Monongalia County Health Department to celebrate the law and get the word out.
Delegate Barbara Evans Fleischauer, D-Monongalia, was one of six sponsors – four Republicans, two Democrats – of the bill. When the House Health chair offered it for introduction, it seemed so obscure that no one else signed on, she said. “I did not think it was a very important bill.”
As it was explained on the House floor and reported in The Dominion Post upon passage, only its secondary aspect stood out: It allows pharmacists, under specified conditions, to extend 30-day prescriptions to 90 day.
It wasn’t until after it passed, she said, that she got a call from Adrian Kiger Olmstead, leader of West Virginia chapter of #insulin4all, thanking her for passing Kevin’s Law.
It turned out that, unconnected, 12 other states have passed Kevin’s Law, named for Ohio resident Kevin Houdeshell, an Ohio resident with Type I diabetes who died over a holiday weekend because he couldn’t get his insulin prescription renewed and refilled.
“Sometimes you do things in the routine that are more important than you realize,” Fleischauer said.
Olmstead said she was diagnosed with diabetes 34 years ago. During the past 20 years she’s spent more than $300,000 for medicines, equipment and medical treatment. “I would pay for all of that all over again because I feel so grateful to have insulin.”
But it wasn’t money that kept Kevin from getting his insulin in 2013, she said. It “was the moral injury of our health system.”
Not being able to get the crucial refill has happened to her, she said. “I can’t explain to you the frustration that you feel when you’re on one side of the counter and your pharmacist is on the other side with a look on their face like, “I wish I could give you your life-saving medication that I have, but legally I can’t do it.’”
About 240,000 West Virginians have been diagnosed with diabetes and they won’t have to face this any longer, she said.
Ten-year-old Haley Finley was diagnosed with Type I diabetes at age 8, she said. It’s incurable. “Since diabetics need insulin to survive, Kevin’s Law is very important to me. All diabetics like myself should be able to get insulin whenever we need it. It is as critical as oxygen.”
While much of the conversation focused on insulin for diabetics, HB 2524 has far broader reach, said Dr. Lisa Costello, vice president of the state chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics, and Dr. Laura Davisson, governor of the West Virginia chapter of the American College of Physicians.
Davisson said that in her 15 years treating adults as a primary care physician, “I have seen firsthand the devastating consequences of chronic diseases. … These chronic diseases require their medications to not be interrupted. … There are so many chronic conditions that this bill will address.”
Since only 13 states have this law, none of the legislators or medical professionals in the room were fully clear on how it might work if a West Virginia resident is in another state and runs out. Pharmacies can transfer prescriptions, to some extent, but not in all cases.
More importantly though, they want to make sure word gets out in West Virginia, since the bill sailed under the radar.
“We’re concerned that patients, physicians and pharmacists aren’t aware it has passed,” Fleischauer said.