ST PAUL, Minn. — A new law goes into effect Wednesday to make insulin more affordable for Minnesotans with diabetes, and the pharmaceutical industry has already challenged it.
The Alec Smith Insulin Affordability Act is named after a Minneapolis man who died at 26 years old after rationing his insulin. He couldn't afford the $1,300 per month needed for treatment and testing supplies.
“Those days now end in Minnesota," Gov. Tim Walz said at a news conference Wednesday afternoon to celebrate the law.
The new safety net program allows qualifying patients who have fewer than seven days worth of insulin on hand to purchase a one-time, 30-day supply for $35 or less. It also offers up to a year supply of insulin for no more than $50 per 90-day refill. Anyone in need can now apply for both at mninsulin.org.
The bill was signed into law in April, but the fight isn't over. Just hours before the law went into effect, Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America filed a lawsuit, claiming the Alec Smith Insulin Affordability Act violates the Constitution.
"The state of Minnesota is forcing insulin manufacturers to give their product to state residents for free, without any compensation from Minnesota in return," the trade group's website says.
Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison pledged to fight the legal challenge.
“It’s my job as Attorney General to defend this law in court," he said in a statement Wednesday. "My office and I will defend it with every resource we have. I’m defending it on behalf of all Minnesotans who believe that no one should die because they can’t afford their insulin. I’m defending it on behalf of all Minnesotans who believe people’s lives are more important than drug companies’ profits.”
Nicole Smith Holt, Alec Smith's mother, said at Wednesday's news conference that the three-anniversary of Alec's death was just this past Saturday. She said she had planned to celebrate the implementation of the law in his honor.
"It was written and signed into law to prevent senseless tragedies like the death of Alec and others from occurring in Minnesota," she said. "Unfortunately we are once again seeing the power and greed of insulin manufacturers."
James Holt, Alec's father, said he believes the pharmaceutical companies are suing to block the law in Minnesota because "they're scared."
"To say we are frustrated at this development is an understatement," he said. "Frankly, my family is outraged."
Holt said that the insulin affordability act is just one step. He called for continued action to lower and cap the price of medicine.
"We must remember that this bill was only a safety net," Holt said. "This was to help in emergencies like Alec experienced. This was not even a bill that lowered the cost of insulin. This was a bill that was designed to assist with saving lives."
Lawmakers made it clear that the act is still in effect today even as it is challenged in court, and anyone who needs the insulin benefits can use them immediately.
"If your family member is in dire need of insulin, this law is on the books and you can use it right now, today," said Rep. Mike Howard, one of the co-authors of the bill. He said he believes the pharmaceutical industry is attempting to cast confusion on the implementation of the law.
"Today is not pharma's day, today is Alec's day," Gov. Walz said.
Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka issued a statement condemning the PhRMA lawsuit.
"We are very disappointed with the drug manufacturers' lawsuit against the Alec Smith Affordable Insulin Act after so much work went into a compromise bill assuring no Minnesotan would have to go without insulin," Gazelka wrote. “Senate Republicans remain committed to providing emergency insulin for those in crisis no matter what happens with this poorly timed lawsuit.”
Lt. Gov. Peggy Flanagan said at the afternoon news conference that the affordability act will be a "safety net for thousands."
"The news from big pharma late last night will not dull this victory," she said. "They will continue fighting, and so will we. And we have the advantage of being right."
Alexis Stanley, who has been active in the fight to pass the legislation, said at the news conference that "the fight is not over."
"I’m 21. Five more years and I’m off my parents’ insurance," she said. "This bill means the world to me. I see myself in Alec every time I talk to Nicole and James. I’m not far from where he was when he was rationing his insulin because he couldn’t afford it."