Minnesota has been at the forefront of efforts to call attention to high insulin costs and their heavy toll on people with diabetes and their families. We applaud the state’s efforts to find a lasting solution. But with so much attention and discord centered on one proposal (“Advocates plead for insulin aid,” Aug. 15), we are concerned that the state will continue failing people with diabetes who cannot afford insulin today.
The National Diabetes Volunteer Leadership Council (NDVLC) urges all legislators to help their constituents who may be rationing insulin to connect with currently available diabetes coverage and assistance options. Many constituents cannot wait for the next legislative session or election cycle.
Minnesota policymakers who are serious about addressing emergency access to insulin can put their websites, newsletters, community meetings, social media and other constituent correspondence to good use. Ensure that every phone call, letter, meeting, conversation, tweet or Facebook post about affordable insulin includes where people who need help can find it today.
The best place to start is often with the constituent’s diabetes care team. Health care providers may be able to bridge short-term gaps with samples or help safely transition to lower-cost insulins.
Legislators also can raise awareness and help constituents connect to manufacturer programs where uninsured and underinsured Minnesotans can access free or steeply reduced-cost insulin. These programs are a lifeline for many Minnesotans, helping to trim insulin costs from thousands of dollars to under $100 per month. Legislators can post program information themselves or link to ndvlc.org/reduce or other diabetes community advocates who keep this information current and easily accessible.
Federal laws put strict limits on how manufacturers operate and communicate about their assistance programs, so it is incumbent upon policymakers and health authorities, advocates, health care practices, hospitals and pharmacies to spread the word.
Legislators also can make sure their uninsured constituents know where to learn about Medicaid and MinnesotaCare eligibility — for more comprehensive assistance with the extensive and expensive regimen of multiple prescriptions, devices, supplies and services that diabetes demands.
MinnesotaCare enrollment information is especially valuable to people with diabetes now that Medica announced it will cap insulin cost- sharing at $25 in its MNsure plans beginning in 2020. We encourage other exchange plan providers in Minnesota and nationwide to follow Medica’s lead so that more people with diabetes have access to affordable, comprehensive health coverage.
Lawmakers also can ensure that their uninsured and underinsured constituents with diabetes know they can find affordable care and low- or no-cost insulin through the state’s network of community hospitals and clinics. Safety net providers purchase insulin at pennies per unit through a federal program and should extend these prices to eligible Minnesotans using their pharmacies.
Lower-cost insulin is also available at local retail pharmacies using free discount programs like GoodRx, InsideRx and Blink Health. Authorized generic analog insulin is available in Minnesota for about $68 a vial using a free coupon from GoodRx — significant savings compared to the original brand’s retail price.
Walmart sells human insulin without a prescription for about $25 per vial. While they may not be right for everyone, these products have helped generations of people with diabetes through emergencies as well as ongoing management. People with diabetes who are unfamiliar with human insulin products should seek medical guidance to use them safely.
Finally, lawmakers, advocates and media outlets can call attention to high insulin costs without demonizing options that don’t suit every person or every circumstance. No single solution or program can possibly address the diabetes community’s diverse needs and circumstances. We need to raise awareness and help people connect with the range of options available today — not leave them waiting until something new comes along tomorrow.
We encourage Minnesotans to continue pursuing ways to reduce insulin costs — but urge you to work together to ensure that friends, neighbors and family members with diabetes know where they can turn for help today.
The time for pointing fingers is over. Diabetes touches every family and every community in the state. While the nation grapples with the deeper flaws in our health care and coverage systems that drive up consumer costs for insulin and other prescription medicines, states and communities should be shoring up the safety nets.
Larry Smith is president of the National Diabetes Volunteer Leadership Council (NDVLC). For more information about reducing insulin costs, visit ndvlc.org/reduce.