ST. PAUL — Minnesota Democrats are saying they've reached a compromise on insulin legislation for the 2020 session, but Republicans are pumping the brakes.
At a Thursday, Jan. 30 news conference in St. Paul's Capitol, House Democratic leaders, joined by Democratic Gov. Tim Walz and Lt. Gov. Peggy Flanagan, introduced a new version of the Alec Smith Affordability Act. A similar Democratic measure failed in 2019, but Minnesota state Rep. Michael Howard, D-Richfield, said this year's version merges Democrats' and Republicans' ideas from this year's closed-door task force meetings.
The bill would establish systems to get Minnesotans with diabetes emergency supplies of insulin, as well as long-term pathways to affordable insulin for those most in need: uninsured, low-income and Medicare patients. Howard told Forum News Service following Thursday's news conference that the crux of Democrats' and Republicans' disagreement remains whether pharmaceutical companies should foot part of the bill.
Howard said he thinks it's "only fair" that manufacturers be partially responsible, with the price of some insulin tripling over the past decade despite no comparable change in manufacturing cost, but that Democrats' concession to Republicans in 2020's bill is including state funds in the plan, as well.
Asked about Republicans' reluctance to pass a bill with pharmaceutical companies included, Howard said, "No Minnesotan that I've talked to thinks the pharmaceutical companies should be off the hook."
Minnesota State Sen. Eric Pratt, R-Prior Lake, said he was surprised by Democrats' claims to compromise on Thursday. In a discussion with Forum News Service following Democrats' news conference, he said he still hadn't seen Democrats' bill.
"I frankly find it disgusting the way the governor and speaker and Rep. Howard turned this into a political side show," he said, saying they are more focused on "punishing" pharmaceutical companies than on reaching an agreement with Senate Republicans.
Pratt said like Democrats' proposal, the Republicans' plan would still include both emergency and long-term insulin plans for diabetes patients. He said he is unsure of a timeline for a bill come legislative session in February, but that it's a top priority of Senate Republicans.
Approximately 330,000 Minnesotans have been diagnosed with Type 1 or Type 2 diabetes, per the state Department of Health, with roughly 18,000 new cases diagnosed annually.
In recent months, several Minnesotans have reported rationing insulin due to skyrocketing prices, with some experiencing fatal complications — like the Democratic bill's namesake, Alec Smith, who died in 2017 at age 26 when he could not afford his insulin.