State lawmakers in both parties said Thursday that despite partisan differences, it is still possible to pass an aid program for diabetics who cannot afford insulin before the regular legislative session resumes in February.
The need is desperate, House members said at a Thursday hearing of the Health and Human Services Finance Committee, the second of two legislative hearings on insulin this week as lawmakers search for a compromise they could enact in a special session.
Committee chairwoman Tina Liebling, DFL-Rochester, said the next step should be meetings between members of the Senate, the House and Democratic Gov. Tim Walz’s staff. The two sides, however, remain far apart on how to structure and pay for a state insulin program.
The House measure, which Democrats proposed last session, has been revised after a series of meetings with legislators and community members this summer. The new version presented Thursday lowers income limits to include more Minnesotans and allows diabetics to pick up insulin at pharmacies on the same day they request it.
Previously, the House emergency insulin plan would have required people to wait days before getting the medication.
Meanwhile, a recent proposal from Republican Sen. Eric Pratt would apply to urgent situations but not same-day emergencies. Diabetics would need to apply online then visit doctors who would provide the medication.
Both programs are needed, said diabetes advocate Nicole Smith-Holt, who has been a driving force in the Legislature’s work on the issue. Her son, Alec, died after rationing his insulin, and the House measure is named after him.
“Alec’s bill is going to touch on that emergency situation, whereas the Pratt bill ... once we get out of this emergency situation, this is the secondary bill that would help. So I believe that they would go hand in hand,” Smith-Holt said Thursday.
‘Profited so greatly’
While House Democrats proposed imposing a fee on drugmakers to pay for their program, the Senate Republican plan would require manufacturers to supply the insulin at no cost to doctors. DFL Rep. Mike Howard, the House bill sponsor, said he sees that piece of the Senate measure as a sign of potential compromise.
“I’m open to the funding mechanism,” Howard said. “Whether it’s a fee, whether we utilize something similar to the opioid bill that passed, whether we look at the Senate proposal. The most important thing is that the insulin manufacturers who have profited so greatly have the stake in paying for this.”
Senate Health and Human Services Chairwoman Michelle Benson, R-Ham Lake, said in a statement Thursday that “now would be a good time for the Governor to engage with policymakers if he wants to have a special session.”
Walz spokesman Teddy Tschann said the administration has met with legislators on the issue and is eager for the House and Senate to reach an agreement so he can call a special session. The governor’s office has expressed openness to having a conference committee meeting with House and Senate members on the topic.
Democrats and Republicans both said Thursday that the issue shouldn’t be partisan. Nonetheless, political fights continued to color the debate at the House hearing, with Rep. Jeremy Munson, R-Lake Crystal, at the center of one argument.
Munson posted a Facebook video last week promoting Walmart’s $24.88 insulin vials as an option for those struggling with higher-cost versions of the drug. Diabetes advocates and legislators warned that Munson should not be dispensing medical advice about a product that does not work well for all diabetics.
Munson is a member of the four-person New House Republican Caucus, which split off from the primary Republican caucus last year. His actions prompted political sparring with some members of the House Republican Caucus. Rep. Ron Kresha, R- Little Falls, called the video “reckless.”