A fall special session is still necessary to fix the Minnesota Legislature’s last-minute failure to pass an emergency insulin bill for diabetics who can’t afford this costly, lifesaving medication. Yet Labor Day has come and gone, and there’s still no official word on whether it will happen.
It’s time for answers and action. Two young Minnesotans have died after rationing insulin, including the young man, Alec Smith, for whom the emergency insulin bill is named. While three large Minnesota insurers have stepped up to lower insulin costs for enrollees, this welcome measure does not help those who lack coverage, as Smith did when he aged off his mom’s plan and died in 2017.
A fall special session on insulin has strong support from Gov. Tim Walz, DFL lawmakers and some Republican legislators such as Sen. Jim Abeler, R-Anoka, and Sen. Scott Jensen, R-Chaska. Less clear, however, has been whether Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka, R-Baxter, and Sen. Michelle Benson, R-Ham Lake, share this urgency. Their backing is critical to get a measure through the GOP-controlled Senate if a special session is called.
Over the past month, the health care committee chaired by Benson has found time to hold two hearings about Minnesota Department of Human Services (DHS) leadership. But when pressed about emergency insulin action by members of her own party after one of the hearings, Benson demurred. She wanted more details about the bill and raised questions about DHS’ capacity to administer it.
According to Jensen, lawmakers have continued to work on this issue and the Republican senators met recently about it. That suggests the details Benson wants may be available. Jensen, a physician, also said in an interview this week that DHS is a large agency and continues to be staffed by “many good people.”
“Can DHS do something like this? Absolutely,” Jensen said.
Funding has been another sticking point. Smith’s mother and other advocates for diabetics have pressed for the drug industry, which has repeatedly raised insulin prices, to pay for the costs of this assistance. Another alternative is to use taxpayer dollars via the state’s health care access fund.
A 2019 analysis put the program’s price tag at $10 million a year. There’s common ground to be found, with an obvious compromise relying on both funding sources. End the delays and get this done.