It’s an urgent problem. The horrifying story of Alec Smith, the young Minneapolis Type 1 diabetic who died because he couldn’t afford his insulin, must never be repeated.
Turning 26, Alec was faced with the prospect of getting his own insurance. He had a decent job, yet he had to pay a lot for a high deductible plan. But he needed insulin. Since he didn’t have the $1,300 he needed for insulin and supplies, he waited. Four weeks later, he was dead.
Over the course of the 2019 legislative session, many remedies were offered to meet this kind of critical need — including a never-before-heard amendment offered at 3 a.m. last Saturday, touted as “must-pass legislation.” It failed in both houses, with bipartisan support and bipartisan opposition. We saw it as extremely complicated, unworkable and that it risked lawsuits, which would mean it most likely would never succeed.
As concerned senators, we voted “no.” And then politics took over, and all across social media we were personally criticized for not caring, for blocking a solution, for risking innocent lives.
Actually, we do care, and we want a solution.
But is it just about politics? “Solving the insulin problem” had a lot of words thrown at it this session, both in public and private. But no formal offer during negotiations was ever made by any party, including Gov. Walz, the House or the Senate. As the saying goes, “Everybody’s business is nobody’s business.”
We five senators are making it our business. And we are not going to take no for an answer.
We are committed to a real solution that will truly make a difference, rise above the political rhetoric and actually get a program launched that will save lives.
Sometimes the answer is so simple it’s elegant.
We agree that we need to provide for emergency supplies of insulin to those who are at risk of harm. But we don’t need to set up an entirely new and complex program, creating more networks and more payment methods. Minnesota can use its existing network of “fee for service” pharmacists to be a statewide point of contact for those at risk. With simple rules that can be readily implemented, we can assure that those who truly are in need can get insulin without delay.
These hundreds of pharmacies are already part of Minnesota’s public program network. They already accept Minnesota’s pricing and billing system. By simply creating a new code for them to bill, the state would cover the initial costs.
And why stop there? Let’s add epilepsy medications as well. Too many have died from unaffordable medication costs for that condition, as well.
Simple rules: have a prescription, be in an emergency situation, get what you need to preserve your life.
And then the system will sort out the details after the crisis is past. As was said during the debate early Saturday morning, that part is just logistics.
We think it would catch on. Citizens and civic groups could donate to support the program and we know they would do so. Manufacturers and distributors would likely donate product and financial support. The state would pick up the remainder, as we can tap into $3 million in the just-passed budget that is available to be used.
It will work. It will save lives. And Minnesota will once again be proud to be the leader in another “unsolvable” health care situation.
This will have bipartisan support. Perhaps even the governor would call a four-hour special session around Labor Day to get this underway. It is that important. Lives are truly at stake.
And a pleasant side-effect: the political partisanship blame game would stop, and we can move on to solving other important issues that matter to all of us.
Jim Abeler (Anoka), Paul Anderson (Plymouth), Karin Housley (Stillwater), Scott Jensen (Chaska) and Eric Pratt (Prior Lake) are Republican members of the Minnesota Senate.