ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) — A conservative Republican lawmaker has come under criticism for promoting a cheaper form of insulin, while legislators debate whether and how Minnesota should help diabetics with the high cost of newer insulin products.
Rep. Jeremy Munson, of Lake Crystal, on Friday posted a Facebook video showing him walking into a Walmart and buying a vial of the cheaper, older form of insulin for $24.88.
"I hear testimony about people rationing their insulin," Munson says in the video that has been viewed thousands of times. "That shouldn't need to happen when there's affordable options out there."
Democrats and diabetes advocates quickly criticized his advice as dangerous, the Star Tribune reported. They warned that the two types of insulin can't be used the same way and said Munson — a businessman who is not a diabetic — shouldn't be dispensing medical advice online.
The debate over the video comes as Republicans and Democrats hold hearings this week on competing proposals for providing insulin to diabetics who can't afford it. A state Senate committee held its first hearing Monday on a GOP proposal to make drug companies provide free insulin to people whose incomes are low enough, about $50,000 for a single person and $100,000 for a family of four. An updated Democratic proposal for providing emergency insulin supplies will debut Thursday before a House panel.
The cheaper "regular" insulin sold at Walmart became widely available in the early 1980s. Newer "analog" insulin products emerged in 1996 and grew in popularity, but their price has skyrocketed. It can cost $300 for a two-week supply. Analog insulin kicks in faster than the old version and acts more predictably, helping people avoid potentially dangerous peaks that lead to low blood sugar, said Matt Petersen, a vice president at the American Diabetes Association.
Switching to the cheaper option requires diabetics to be more regimented about their diets and requires careful assistance from a health care provider.
"If you're not a medical professional, you probably should not be dispensing medical advice online," said Allison Bailey, the U.S. advocacy manager for Type 1 diabetes organization T1International.
Rep. Laurie Halverson, a Democrat from Eagan, who has Type 1 diabetes and uses analog insulin, is among Munson's critics.
"To approach it like somehow somebody without diabetes has the answer and it's lower-quality, outdated technology with this insulin — it's just wrong," Halverson said.
Munson said in his defense that he's not giving medical advice, and that he wrote at the end of a caption below his video: "Diabetics should talk to their pharmacist and doctor to understand if the traditional insulin could be used to treat their diabetes if the newer style of insulin is not available."