Despite bipartisan support, a bill aimed at providing Minnesotans with more affordable insulin failed to make its way into final budget negotiations, leaving lawmakers on both sides pointing fingers.
The Alec Smith Emergency Insulin Act is named for the Minnesota resident and diabetic who died at age 26 after he was unable to afford insulin.
The bill would establish a manufacturer fee for Minnesota’s three largest insulin providers in order to fund an assistance program for those who cannot afford the life-saving drug.
Senate and House versions of the policy previously passed with bipartisan support (the Senate amendment passing unanimously 67-0), with the family of Alec Smith having lobbied in support of the bill, meeting with lawmakers throughout the session.
But a miscommunication between chambers left the bill out of final budget negotiations.
There were late efforts in the early hours of Saturday morning via an emergency insulin amendment in the Senate, but that failed in a near-party line vote 33-34, with only one Republican breaking with caucus to vote in favor of the amendment, Rochester Sen. Carla Nelson.
In a tweet, Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka noted that his Republicans had passed other measures to reduce the cost of insulin.
How did we get here?
A conference committee of House and Senate lawmakers had been tasked with passing the health and human services omnibus bill during the recently-declared special session. But the final bill list for the committee did not include the Alec Smith act.
Speaker of the House Melissa Hortman said in a press conference Friday that the bill would not move forward.
“The very last thing that we fought with the Republicans for and we were unable to achieve that this year. I’m hopeful we might be able to do it next year,” she said.
Senate Health and Human Services Finance and Policy chair Sen. Michelle Benson (R-Ham Lake) said the policy was not a part of the final negotiating spreadsheet provided by the House in closed-door negotiations.
As a result, she and other Republican Senators have claimed, the provision was not included in the final health and human services budget.
Benson’s stated the issue had become a “political punching bag” and highlighted other insulin affordability measures in the final budget. She said lawmakers now need to move forward with the negotiated budget.
Sen. Jim Abeler (R-Anoka), chair of the Human Services Finance and Policy committee, also took to Twitter, stating the bill was not included or mentioned in any negotiations he was part of.
“The word 'insulin' was not mentioned in our large working group meetings. Nor in the two tribunal meetings I was part of. Also no bonafide spreadsheet offer was made,” he tweeted.
DFL lawmakers have fired back at the claims. Rep. Michael Howard (DFL-Richfield), an author of the House bill, said in a statement Thursday that Senate Republicans have refused to reopen negotiations to include the policy in the budget.
“Senate Republicans owe Minnesotans an explanation for why they would go out of their way to stop such an important, life-saving bill that had broad, bipartisan support,” Benson’s statement reads.
In a letter to the conference committee Thursday, Sen. John Marty (DFL-Roseville) urged lawmakers to reopen negotiations and include either the House or Senate versions in the final omnibus bill.