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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: 457317

Reported Deaths: 6192
CountyCasesDeaths
Hennepin948721509
Ramsey40815753
Dakota33748357
Anoka31494369
Washington20678239
Stearns18152190
St. Louis14050252
Scott1227999
Wright11850108
Olmsted1089875
Sherburne833070
Carver707039
Clay662184
Rice627375
Kandiyohi560572
Blue Earth550833
Crow Wing491478
Otter Tail465669
Chisago463038
Benton425088
Winona396148
Douglas380966
Mower376829
Nobles375247
Goodhue359864
Polk331060
McLeod329547
Beltrami317348
Morrison314845
Lyon306341
Becker290739
Itasca288643
Isanti286843
Carlton285643
Steele280610
Pine271515
Freeborn255723
Todd233730
Nicollet230939
Brown219434
Mille Lacs216545
Le Sueur215616
Cass211324
Meeker201933
Waseca194016
Wabasha17563
Martin172426
Roseau166717
Hubbard151638
Houston142214
Redwood141727
Dodge14074
Renville139240
Chippewa133432
Cottonwood129618
Fillmore12868
Wadena120918
Rock112512
Aitkin111533
Faribault110616
Sibley11037
Watonwan10738
Pennington101216
Kanabec100218
Pipestone97723
Yellow Medicine95117
Murray9167
Jackson87910
Swift85018
Pope7495
Stevens7078
Marshall70415
Clearwater68814
Lake66515
Lac qui Parle66216
Wilkin63510
Koochiching61010
Lincoln4912
Big Stone4703
Grant4418
Unassigned43668
Norman4268
Mahnomen4177
Kittson37720
Red Lake3224
Traverse2693
Lake of the Woods1991
Cook1160

Iowa Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 314395

Reported Deaths: 4445
CountyCasesDeaths
Polk47367465
Linn18252280
Scott16058172
Black Hawk14235243
Woodbury13178182
Johnson1238554
Dubuque11743161
Pottawattamie9225115
Dallas920372
Story890538
Cerro Gordo477672
Webster475677
Warren467039
Clinton463768
Sioux461557
Marshall434362
Des Moines399743
Buena Vista398131
Muscatine398079
Wapello355198
Plymouth354270
Jasper335859
Lee330333
Marion313553
Jones276150
Henry270231
Carroll259234
Bremer251448
Crawford236424
Boone225518
Washington225433
Benton215250
Mahaska200437
Jackson196932
Tama192259
Dickinson189629
Kossuth182244
Delaware177736
Clay173921
Fayette168424
Wright167824
Buchanan164024
Hamilton163130
Winneshiek163020
Hardin159531
Harrison159262
Cedar157019
Clayton154749
Butler152824
Page149115
Floyd142436
Cherokee140827
Mills139417
Lyon138733
Poweshiek136724
Hancock133324
Allamakee131630
Iowa129222
Madison126810
Calhoun12439
Grundy123628
Winnebago123429
Jefferson123125
Louisa117531
Mitchell117437
Cass115844
Chickasaw114112
Appanoose113640
Sac113615
Union113123
Emmet111332
Shelby108527
Humboldt107919
Guthrie104824
Unassigned10420
Franklin104118
Palo Alto92611
Montgomery90124
Howard86719
Keokuk86626
Monroe83020
Clarke8239
Pocahontas78811
Ida76930
Monona71218
Davis70721
Adair69920
Greene6997
Lucas67110
Osceola65111
Worth6254
Taylor6069
Fremont5296
Van Buren51015
Decatur5024
Ringgold46611
Audubon4288
Wayne42221
Adams3023
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