Minnesota Senate GOP unveils insulin affordability bill

Minnesota Senate Republicans want to require drug makers to provide free insulin to qualifying residents who can't afford the high cost of the life-saving medication.

Posted: Sep 19, 2019 1:09 PM
Updated: Sep 19, 2019 2:56 PM

ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) — Leaders of the Republican majority in the Minnesota Senate said Thursday that they want to require drugmakers to provide free insulin to qualifying residents who can't afford the high cost of the life-saving medication.

They unveiled their plan a week ahead of when House Democrats plan to announce their own proposal. It'll be based on a bill they passed last year named after Alec Smith, a 26-year-old uninsured Minneapolis man who died in 2017 of diabetic complications because he was rationing his insulin. The clock ran out on the 2019 session in May before the two chambers could agree on the details, which resulted in political blowback against Republicans.

Since then, legislative leaders on both sides and Democratic Gov. Tim Walz have discussed the possibility of a special session on insulin this fall if they can reach a consensus first on the details.

"We recognize that Minnesotans are struggling to afford insulin, and I believe we have a plan here that will help fix that," said Sen. Eric Pratt, of Shakopee, who authored the bill. Supporting him at a news conference were Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka, of Nisswa, Senate Health and Human Services Committee chairwoman Michelle Benson, of Ham Lake, and Sen. Dan Hall, of Burnsville.

Under the Senate GOP plan, diabetics could qualify if they're not already on the Medicare, Medicaid or MinnesotaCare public programs, and their family income is less than 400% of the federal poverty line. Pratt said that means individuals making nearly $50,000 a year, and families of four making over $100,000, could qualify. And he said the program could be up and running by Jan. 1.

Patients would go to the web portal of the state-run MNsure health insurance exchange to obtain eligibility statements to bring to their doctors, who would then order patients 120-day refillable supplies from their preferred manufacturers. Patients would be eligible for one year before they would have to requalify. The state would require the manufacturers to provide the insulin without compensation as a condition for doing business in the state.

According to data from the nonpartisan Health Care Cost Institute, patients with Type 1 diabetes spent an average of $5,705 in 2016, nearly double what they paid in 2016. Pratt said he has not received estimates from Senate staff yet on how much the program will cost the state or how many people will be eligible. He acknowledged that the industry is not on board.

Benson said she plans to hold a hearing on the bill Monday. She supported the bill as "a really solid start" but indicated that changes are likely as interested people and groups weigh in.

"Governor Walz is encouraged to see both Democrats and Republicans in the Legislature working to address the lack of affordable insulin in Minnesota," said his spokesman, Teddy Tschann. He added that the governor is reviewing the proposal and looking forward to further discussions.

The Alec Smith Emergency Insulin Act, which was backed by the House Democratic majority last session, would have allowed diabetics who couldn't afford insulin to get 90-day emergency supplies. The money would have come from fees on manufacturers. Although language along those lines passed both chambers as part of a catch-all health and human services bill, a conference committee couldn't resolve the differences in time.

House Speaker Melissa Hortman, of Brooklyn Park, and the old bill's sponsor, Rep. Michael Howard, of Richfield, faulted the new Senate proposal for not specifically addressing the need for emergency insulin for patients in crisis.

But diabetes activist Quinn Nystrom, of Baxter, leader of the Minnesota chapter of #Insulin4all, said she was "thrilled" and "grateful" to see Senate Republicans coming to the table, adopting her group's hashtag for social media, and being willing to hold the insulin manufacturers accountable.

The Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America said the industry is already working to help patients with the costs of diabetes drugs, and faulted insurers for not passing along the price breaks they receive.

"Rather than creating a duplicative new state-run program, we believe efforts should be focused on fixing a broken system that's asking patients to pay a higher price for insulin than their insurance company," association spokesman Nick McGee said.

Minnesota Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 593622

Reported Deaths: 7379
CountyCasesDeaths
Hennepin1228171731
Ramsey51446875
Dakota45976452
Anoka41782439
Washington26948283
Stearns22266222
St. Louis17787304
Scott17296124
Wright16082140
Olmsted1325598
Sherburne1173087
Carver1050745
Clay816392
Rice8063107
Blue Earth751541
Crow Wing666290
Kandiyohi656283
Chisago601351
Otter Tail575478
Benton571697
Goodhue478572
Douglas468575
Mower466232
Winona455050
Itasca439156
McLeod424559
Isanti422464
Morrison419660
Nobles408048
Beltrami397059
Steele388715
Polk384868
Becker380953
Lyon361051
Carlton345654
Freeborn342029
Pine329022
Nicollet326243
Brown305440
Mille Lacs305053
Le Sueur292423
Todd282432
Cass273428
Meeker256640
Waseca236322
Martin230732
Roseau209419
Wabasha20613
Hubbard190041
Dodge18513
Renville180343
Redwood174337
Houston171916
Cottonwood165823
Fillmore156510
Wadena155922
Pennington153719
Faribault152419
Chippewa152338
Kanabec144726
Sibley143810
Aitkin135036
Watonwan13289
Rock128319
Jackson121812
Pipestone115926
Yellow Medicine114120
Pope11056
Murray10639
Swift105618
Stevens91411
Marshall88117
Clearwater86916
Koochiching83615
Wilkin81612
Lake81120
Lac qui Parle75322
Big Stone6004
Lincoln5813
Grant5788
Mahnomen5539
Norman5399
Unassigned49293
Kittson48622
Red Lake3977
Traverse3705
Lake of the Woods3253
Cook1640

Iowa Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 367236

Reported Deaths: 5940
CountyCasesDeaths
Polk57666626
Linn20892335
Scott20060241
Black Hawk15824308
Woodbury15138228
Johnson1449183
Dubuque13380208
Dallas1118398
Pottawattamie11132168
Story1062348
Warren577988
Clinton555893
Cerro Gordo540689
Sioux514474
Webster512293
Marshall483075
Muscatine481399
Des Moines458066
Wapello4303122
Buena Vista424840
Jasper419372
Plymouth401280
Lee376055
Marion362875
Jones299057
Henry291937
Carroll285752
Bremer284860
Crawford266240
Boone265034
Benton256655
Washington254050
Dickinson248543
Mahaska230451
Jackson222142
Clay215725
Kossuth215564
Tama209871
Delaware209741
Winneshiek196835
Page192722
Buchanan191432
Cedar190023
Hardin185643
Fayette185141
Wright184737
Hamilton180049
Harrison179673
Clayton169556
Butler165034
Madison162519
Mills162422
Floyd161142
Cherokee158938
Lyon158241
Poweshiek154934
Allamakee151451
Iowa148824
Hancock148434
Winnebago142531
Cass138654
Calhoun138513
Grundy136333
Emmet134240
Jefferson132435
Shelby131137
Sac130419
Union128333
Louisa128149
Appanoose128049
Mitchell126442
Chickasaw124116
Guthrie121530
Franklin120721
Humboldt119126
Palo Alto112823
Howard104622
Montgomery103338
Clarke100224
Unassigned9710
Keokuk96031
Monroe95329
Ida90435
Adair86532
Pocahontas85522
Davis83024
Monona82730
Osceola78716
Greene77710
Lucas77223
Worth7478
Taylor66012
Fremont6229
Decatur6089
Ringgold55824
Van Buren55818
Wayne53923
Audubon51010
Adams3384
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