Minnesota House passes emergency insulin bill, despite GOP opposition

There remains disagreement over how affordable insulin access should be funded.
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The Minnesota House passed a bill that levy fees on drug companies to provide access to emergency insulin, but there remains debate over whether this is the best way to make the drug affordable for diabetes patients.

The House passed HF 3100, otherwise known as the Alec Smith Insulin Affordability Act, by a vote of 75-52 on Wednesday night.

The bill is named for Alec Smith, who died at the age of 26 while rationing his insulin medication, for which he was being charged $1,300-a-month.

The bill would provide eligible Minnesotans with diabetes up to three months' supply of emergency insulin, as well as provide assistance to help them secure a long-term supply of the drug.

In order to pay for this, a fee would be levied on drug companies that Democrats hold responsible for the skyrocketing cost of insulin, which has tripled in the last 10 years. If 70 percent of diabetics eligible for the program use it, the fees would cost drug companies $38 million, according to Session Daily.

Copays for regulated health plans meanwhile would be called at $30 per month, with pharmacies required to take part in the insulin program in order to do business in the state.

Per Session Daily:

"To be eligible for the insulin program, people would have to be uninsured; have drug coverage through Medicare and have incurred more than $1,000 in annual out-of-pocket drug costs; or have private insurance with cost sharing that exceeds $50 for a month’s supply of insulin. Participants’ household income could not exceed 400% of federal poverty guidelines."

Here's how the vote went: 

Insulin vote

"Why are diabetics getting their medication for free?" lawmaker asks

Despite 52 voting against the bill on Wednesday, it looks likely that some form of deal will be reached, with Republicans in both the House and Senate keen on passing an insulin bill, while disagreeing with how it should be funded.

Rep. Kurt Daudt argues that health insurance companies and insulin manufacturers have already been making efforts to provide affordable insulin, with several Minnesota insurers announcing low co-pays for the drug late last year.

But Rep. Michael Howard (DFL-Richfield) said that despite this, at least two people in Minnesota have died since the end of the last legislative session because they couldn't get insulin.

Alternative plans have been proposed by Republicans, including one that would fund an emergency insulin program using state funds, rather than charging manufacturers a fee.

The Star Tribune reports that on the Senate side, Sen. Scott Jensen (R-Chaska), himself a medical doctor, has proposed a bill that instead of charging drug companies a fee, would instead just require them to provide insulin for distribution free of charge, which he says would cost between $10-$20 million.

Whichever form of bill passes the Republican-controlled Senate will have to be reconciled with what passed the House on Wednesday, but there appears motivation on both sides to pass a bill, after last year's effort failed at the last minute.

Among those opposing the House bill on Wednesday night was Rep. Jeremy Munson (R-Lake Crystal), who questioned why diabetics should get their medicine "for free" and not cancer patients, questioning whether it's because they have "the best lobbying groups out there?"

The campaign to pass the Alec Smith Emergency Insulin Bill has predominantly been a grassroots effort led by, among others, Alec Smith's mother, Nicole Holt Smith, along with other diabetes patients.

Pharmaceutical and health products companies, on the other hand, spent $228 million on lobbying efforts through three quarters of 2019, per Open Secrets.

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