Governor Tim Walz is calling on legislators to come together and agree on a plan to provide insulin to diabetics in crisis, and he says he’s willing to call a special session to make it a reality as soon as possible.
"I'm telling you very clearly now, get this to my desk and I will sign it into law,” Walz said.
The comments came during a special meeting with affordable insulin advocates at the Capitol on Wednesday. Last month, KARE 11 followed some of the same advocates to Canada, as they purchased insulin without a prescription, at prices that were about one tenth the cost of those in the United States.
"I'll be damned if I want to live in a state that that's our solution, to go to another country,” Walz said. “If the solution is out there, we should pursue it and we should solve it.”
Despite promising to explore other options earlier in the week, Walz told the advocates that he can't issue an executive order to make the Alec Smith Emergency Insulin Act a reality. The bill is named after 26 year old Alec Smith, who couldn't afford the $1,300 retail price for insulin and supplies after he aged out of his parents’ health insurance.
“He lasted 27 days without insurance,” said Nicole Smith-Holt, Alec’s mother. “He only had $1,000 in his bank account, and being a proud, 26 year old, trying-to-be-independent young man, he didn't call mom and dad for help. He thought, ‘Maybe I can take a little less insulin. Maybe I can miss a dose. Maybe I can change my diet. Maybe I can stretch this out to pay day.’ Unfortunately his body was found three days prior to that pay day."
Smith-Holt says her son's bill would provide up to a three month supply of free or low-cost insulin to Type I diabetics in crisis, even if, like Alec, they aren’t poor enough to qualify for current public programs.
Despite strong bipartisan support last session, nearly all Senate republicans suddenly pulled their support in the closing days of the special session after concerns about how the bill would be paid for and concerns about how it would be managed.
Governor Walz says he supports the funding structure in the original Alec Smith Emergency Insulin Act, which would have charged pharmaceutical companies a fee to pay for the emergency insulin.
"I'm not going to sit and watch people make obscene profits, shift the costs back to the taxpayers of Minnesota and then walk away with that money too,” Walz said. “Because the irony of that would be that we would use taxpayer monies to pay the very companies that aren't helping us to get the insulin to come back. My expectation is they will be a part of this solution… but I'm willing to listen."
Now, advocates like Quinn Nystrom, a Type I Diabetic, say they’re hoping lawmakers can figure out their differences and pass something soon.
"Let me be very clear, this bill cannot wait until next session,” Nystrom said. "I'm constantly getting emails from people saying, ‘I am going to die. My child is going to die.’ Last week I brought insulin to two different fathers under the age of 10 cannot afford their insulin. In the metro area."
Senate majority leader Paul Gazelka says republicans are committed to finding a solution, issuing the following statement on Wednesday:
“As I said on the last night of special session, we are going to keep working on insulin to make sure we have a solution that fits the problem. The proposed ideas need to be hammered out to earn the support of legislators, patients, advocates, doctors, and pharmacists. The legislative process worked effectively to pass regulations on Pharmaceutical Benefit Managers to lower prices on ALL prescription drugs, and we agreed that health insurance companies would not make a profit on insulin. Minnesota will get this right by working together, not by using insulin access as a divisive political tool.”