GOP lawmaker's Walmart insulin video criticized as 'irresponsible'

Democrats have pointed out that over-the-counter insulin isn't suitable for many diabetics.

A Republican lawmaker in Minnesota has come in for criticism over a video posted to Facebook showing him buy over-the-counter insulin from Walmart for $24.88.

Rep. Jeremy Munson (R-Lake Crystal) said the ability to buy insulin from stores like Walmart without a prescription shows there are affordable options out there for diabetics who are struggling to afford the cost of prescription insulin.

"I sit on the Health and Human Services committee at the Minnesota Capitol, and I hear testimony about people rationing their insulin," he says. "That shouldn't need to happen when there are affordable options out there. It's so much more important to get this information out to the public instead of making this some sort of campaign issue."

But the video has been denounced as "grossly irresponsible" by DFL Rep. Alice Mann, a family practice and E.R. doctor who points out the limitations of the insulin, such as the fact it can't be taken using a pump, and says diabetics should not change the kind of insulin they're taking without consulting their doctor.

The American Pharmacists Association says that OTC insulins are older versions of the drugs currently prescribed by doctors, and takes longer to metabolize than prescription insulin.

What's more, it puts patients at risk if they don't get the dose or the timing right, noting: "Taking the wrong dose consistently can lead to high blood pressure, kidney disease, nerve damage, loss of eyesight, or stroke."

Rep. Mann's criticism was echoed by Rep. Laurie Halverson (D-Edina), herself a Type 1 diabetic, who told the Star Tribune: "To approach it like somehow somebody without diabetes has the answer and it’s lower-quality, outdated technology with this insulin — it’s just wrong."

She added on Twitter: "Beware. MN GOP legislators are touting the Wal-Mart insulin as a cheap alternative.The insulin crisis exists because cos. have increased the price of insulin 1200% since 1996. I call on the GOP to stop peddling dangerous and reckless health advice. Talk to a doc."

In a comment on his own video, Rep. Munson said his video was "not meant to direct diabetics to use this type of insulin," instead he says he was trying to point out that the "traditional insulin" has not increased in price since the '80s, whereas the more expensive prescription insulin has.

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The Facebook post accompanying Rep. Munson's video does note that diabetics should talk to their pharmacist and doctor to see if traditional insulin could treat their diabetes if they can't get prescription insulin.

"If we are to have an honest discussion about the prices being charged, you cannot compare the cost for this style insulin in the 1980s against synthetic insulin designed in recent years," Munson wrote.

It comes as Democratic and Republican lawmakers come together this week to discuss the rising cost of insulin, with both sides proposing their own solutions.

The GOP's bill would provide insulin to patients for free, provided they meet income eligibility requirements which are verified within five days.

But Democrats say five days is too long for someone in urgent need of insulin, and wants a bill passed that provides emergency access for diabetics who can't afford the drug.

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