If there’s no special session, the Minnesota Legislature will go back to work in 241 days.
You can break that down into months and weeks. Or you can measure it out in vials of insulin.
The insulin so many Minnesotans can’t afford and can’t live without.
“For someone like me, with Type I diabetes, you literally need insulin every day of your life,” said Quinn Nystrom of Baxter, Minn., who’s been trying to explain this to lawmakers all year. “It’s like oxygen to breathe.”
You can’t miss a dose. You can’t miss a day. Not on your life.
Two, four, six vials of insulin a month, at $300 or $400 or $500 a vial.
Insulin will probably cost more 241 days from now.
Big pharma hikes the price every year. Insulin costs doubled between 2012 and 2016. There’s no reason to think 2020 would be any different.
Minnesota lawmakers promised to help.
The Alec Smith Emergency Insulin Act would have been a lifeline. A source of emergency insulin for people running low. It was the state’s attempt to make sure that what happened to Alec — a 26-year-old whose insulin prescription ate half his paycheck, and who died trying to make his last vial last until payday — didn’t happen to anyone else.
The bill sailed through the DFL-majority House with bipartisan support. It sailed through the GOP-majority Senate with bipartisan support.
Granted, the House version would have made the pharmaceutical companies pay for the emergency insulin assistance while the Senate wanted taxpayers to pick up the tab, but whatever. Just throw the lifeline. We can fight after we’ve pulled everyone to safety.
Then came the final days of session, when everyone goes behind closed doors and everything goes to hell.
When negotiators returned from hammering out the final version of the massive health and human services omnibus, the Alec Smith Emergency Insulin Act was gone. A clerical error dropped it from the work sheet, state Sen. Michelle Benson, R-Ham Lake, said afterward, because apparently the people empowered to make our laws are powerless in the face of a typo.
There was one last chance, in the final hours, when the governor went behind closed doors with the House and Senate leadership for some serious horse-trading and hostage-taking.
The session ended. No emergency insulin aid.
Gov. Tim Walz says he wants to call a special session on insulin access. But now the bipartisan lifeline is a “divisive political tool,” according to Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka, and maybe they should convene a task force and talk this out.
Meanwhile, the Minnesotans who need insulin like they need oxygen are out there waiting for their lawmakers to crack open a window.
The governor held a roundtable last week, where patients and parents and health care workers shared their insulin horror stories. The mother and son who are sharing insulin because they can’t afford enough for both. The man who uses only expired insulin because that’s all he can afford. The families caravanning to Canada, where a $300 vial insulin costs $30.
Nicole Smith-Holt shared the story of the last 27 days of her son’s life. That was how long Alec lived after he aged off his parents’ health insurance and got his first $1,300 bill for a month of insulin and supplies.
He had a good job as a restaurant manager, and his $40,000 salary disqualified him from any income-based insulin assistance programs. But $1,300 was a big chunk of his salary — double what he was paying for rent and more than the $1,000 he had saved in the bank.
“Being the proud 26-year-old, trying to be an independent young man, he didn’t call mom and dad for help,” his mother said. “He thought, ‘Maybe I could take a little less insulin. Maybe I could miss a dose. Maybe I could change my diet. Maybe I could stretch this out till payday.’ ”
They found his body three days before payday.
The Legislature adjourned almost a month ago. Or $1,300 ago, if we’re measuring time like Alec Smith would have.
Look, I know the Lege isn’t known for swift, decisive action.
The feds offered us million of dollars to improve election security after the Russians tried to hack us and state lawmakers acted like D.C. was trying to hand them a venomous snake.
We never got around to closing the legal loophole that gives parental rights to rapists, even though every other state but Alabama found the time.
My Minnesota driver’s license is stamped with NOT FOR FEDERAL IDENTIFICATION because somehow we were the last state in the union to implement Real ID.
But I know our lawmakers can do this.
I know they don’t want anyone to die on their watch. I know they can go into a special session and I know they can pass emergency insulin assistance. Now. Not 241 days from now.
Then all the Minnesotans they save will be around next February when the Legislature gets back to work on the real problem: what to do with all the pharmaceutical companies who are making a killing on insulin.