Diabetics could get free insulin through their doctors under a proposal Senate Republicans offered Thursday, but Democrats said the plan doesn’t do enough for people in emergency situations.
While lawmakers in both parties say they want to help diabetics who are overwhelmed by high insulin prices, the skeptical DFL response to the Republican plan underscored how the two sides remain far apart on how to structure and pay for a new state insulin program after an 11th-hour deal was derailed in the Legislature this spring.
Republicans said their new proposal — where the drug manufacturers would have to supply the insulin — would cost pharmaceutical companies millions, suggesting that Gov. Tim Walz and the Democratic majority in the House should get behind it.
“We’re bringing both the state and manufacturer resources together to be a part of this plan and we believe it could be implemented quickly,” said Sen. Eric Pratt, R-Prior Lake.
The GOP proposal would require insulin manufacturers to provide the medication to doctors. Patients who are not covered by state or federal health care plans and earn less than 400% of the poverty level would qualify temporarily for the free drugs. That means a single person making nearly $50,000 or a family of four making about $100,000 would be eligible.
Patients would have to apply for an eligibility statement through the state’s MNsure health insurance marketplace website and get a response within five days that they can bring to their doctor. Pratt, who is the chief sponsor, estimated it would cost the state $100,000 to get the web page set up and $250,000 to raise public awareness about the program.
If legislators hold a special session, they could get the free insulin program started Jan. 1, Pratt said.
But Democrats have so far held to their own insulin plan, which failed to pass in end-of-session negotiations. The DFL plan would have required that pharmacies dispense emergency insulin, paid for with fees on drug manufacturers.
Several DFL legislators said the Republicans’ idea would not sufficiently address the needs of diabetics in crisis situations.
“If you run out of insulin that day, it might be tough to get in to see your doctor and do their whole program,” Sen. Matt Little, DFL-Lakeville, said. “You only have hours sometimes to get your insulin to stay alive.”
Diabetics’ advocates with the #insulin4all campaign were not consulted about the GOP bill before Thursday’s announcement, said Quinn Nystrom, a type 1 diabetic and state leader in the fight for insulin access. She is considering a run against Republican U.S. Rep. Pete Stauber in the Eighth Congressional District.
“It seems like they are genuine in their attempt to want to work together and want to try to save people’s lives. And that’s our group’s goal,” Nystrom said. But she said she has about 20 questions on the measure and wants to make sure diabetics and parents of children with diabetes can help develop the bill.
The Senate Health and Human Services Committee will consider Pratt’s bill Monday.
Meanwhile, a DFL-led House committee also is scheduled to take up their insulin plan next week. Outside the Legislature, the House DFL is holding four “community conversations” in Twin Cities suburbs and St. Cloud this month to talk about the growing costs of insulin and prescription drugs in general.
The full Legislature resumes work in February, but Walz has said he would call a special session before then if the DFL-controlled House and GOP-led Senate could arrive at an agreement on insulin. Walz said Wednesday that he had not been briefed on the plan Senate Republicans were rolling out but predicted that differences would remain on how to pay for a program.
“My guess is ... they are having incredible pressure. They are stonewalling on the issue,” Walz said of the Republicans. “I continue to talk to them and know that they want to get it fixed — they have to want to get it fixed because it’s a moral issue. But they don’t want to ask the pharmaceutical companies to pay.”
Walz spokesman Teddy Tschann said Thursday the governor is encouraged by the legislators’ work and is reviewing the new proposal.
Pratt said he has talked to members of the pharmaceutical industry about the plan.
“I wouldn’t say that they are happy with this program,” he said. “I think we have pushed [Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America] probably further than they would have wanted to go. But we expect that they will do business in the state of Minnesota and they will comply with this program.”
The Republican bill would require companies to supply insulin through the program in order to operate in the state.
Nick McGee, a spokesman for PhRMA, said insulin manufacturers such as Eli Lilly, Novo Nordisk and Sanofi already have programs to assist patients.
“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,” McGee said.