A new work group of legislators and Gov. Tim Walz's staff will meet soon to discuss an insulin assistance plan, with the goal of reaching a compromise in the next two months — or earlier.
The creation of a formal work group follows months of disagreement over proposals to help diabetics, who are contending with costs that can hit $300 for a two-week supply of the essential drug.
DFL House Speaker Melissa Hortman sent Republican Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka a letter Monday saying she is hopeful the new group can resolve differences between the House and Senate ideas. She directed House members in the work group to give her a status report and come to a compromise in 60 days.
Gazelka suggested an even shorter deadline in his reply.
"I propose requiring a bipartisan solution after 30 days. You are correct that time is of the essence — lives are on the line, and there is no reason we should delay any longer," Gazelka wrote.
Rep. Mike Howard, DFL-Richfield, sponsored the House's emergency insulin program. He said a lot of work remains to iron out the differences.
"It is a positive sign that we're meeting, but the proof is going to be in the pudding," Howard said, noting they could start meeting this week.
Senate Republican spokeswoman Rachel Aplikowski said the logistics of the first meeting are still being sorted out, but she expects they will get together soon.
"We are very motivated to get it done," she said.
Walz, a Democrat, met with Howard and the sponsor of the Senate proposal, Sen. Eric Pratt, R-Prior Lake, last Friday and they emerged with some points of agreement. Howard said they decided the state needs an emergency insulin program as well as a way to connect diabetics with a longer-term solution. They also agreed drug manufacturers need to help fund the programs, and whatever they come up with needs to start as soon as possible.
"The ingredients should be there for us to reach a consensus," Howard said.
The creation of a formal work group follows efforts by a bipartisan ad hoc group of legislators this summer. They held a series of informal, closed-door meetings to try to sort out differences after insulin aid bills fell apart at the end of last session. That informal group stopped meeting without reaching an agreement.
How diabetics will get the insulin has been one of the sticking points. Senators suggested having doctors give out the medication. Diabetes advocates and Democrats have been critical of that approach, saying people in emergency situations could die in the span of time it takes to get a doctor's appointment. In the House bill, people would be able to pick up a 90-day supply at pharmacies.
Pratt has raised concerns with that temporary supply and said he wants to give people a stable solution rather than just a fix when they are in crisis. He also said his proposal could get off the ground sooner than the House Democrats' plan.
The work group will include Pratt and Howard, as well as Rep. Tina Liebling and Sen. Michelle Benson, chairwomen of the House and Senate health and human services committees. There will also be members of the minority parties in each chamber — Republican House Minority Leader Kurt Daudt and Sen. Melissa Wiklund, a Democrat. Walz's administration said some of his staff and Department of Human Services Commissioner Jodi Harpstead will participate as well.
The first work group meeting will be closed to the public, Howard said, but he anticipates they will have hearings in the future where community members can weigh in.