Minn. Senate approves emergency insulin plan, possibly teeing up long-awaited deal

Approval in the Senate comes after more than a year of starts and stops over the issue and it moves the proposal to a conference committee where differences between the bill and a House emergency insulin plan will be ironed out.

Minnesota Sen. Scott Jensen, R-Chaska, on Thursday, March 12, 2020, spoke on the Senate floor about his proposal to establish an emergency insulin program. Dana Ferguson / Forum News Service

ST. PAUL — The Minnesota Senate on Thursday, March 12, unanimously approved a proposal to require insulin manufacturers to provide insulin supplies to uninsured Minnesotans or those that can't afford them.

Under the proposal, manufacturers would provide insulin to patients through existing patient assistance programs and send pharmacists insulin to cover the supplies of those who seek the hormone in emergency situations.

Approval in the Senate comes after more than a year of starts and stops over the issue and it moves the proposal to a conference committee where differences between the bill and a House emergency insulin plan will be ironed out.

In the chamber, senators hugged the bill's author, Sen. Scott Jensen, R-Chaska, after the 66-0 vote came up on the screen. And Rep. Michael Howard, D-Richfield, who has championed a similar measure in the House, came to shake Jensen's hand and begin talking about the next steps for the legislation.

Jensen in discussing the proposal said "perhaps the biggest thanks" goes to the advocates who have pushed it over the past year, including the family and friends of Alec Smith, a 26-year-old Minnesotan who died after rationing his insulin in 2017.


"I never met Alec Smith, so I can't speak to the life he lived, but I can tell Alec Smith that in passing from this Earth, he’s had a far greater impact than he might ever have guessed," Jensen said. "So thank you to that family for the tragedy that they suffered and bore and thank you to all the other advocates and champions of this bill."

Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka, R-East Gull Lake, said the House approach was akin to beating drug manufacturers with a stick to contribute to the program, where the Senate's proposal was more like "coaxing them with a carrot."

The only negative comments issued about the bill before it came up for a vote dealt with the time it took for lawmakers to reach an agreement that could send it forward and about the broader scheme of prescription drug prices that put critical medicines out of reach for Minnesotans.

"I wish we had done it sooner, but I'm glad we're doing it now," Sen. John Marty, D-Roseville, said. "This is a very important but tiny piece of the big picture."

Insulin access advocates on Thursday said the move was positive and encouraged lawmakers to act quickly to reach an agreement on the emergency insulin program.

“We have no time to waste. Minnesotans with diabetes are struggling every day to afford the insulin that they need to survive. People’s lives are at stake," Nicole Smith-Holt, Smith's mother and an advocate for emergency insulin, said. "But I’m confident that we can work together and ensure that not one more Minnesotan dies because they can’t afford their insulin.”

Senators accepted one change to the measure Thursday, which would boost the penalties to drug manufacturers if they don't provide the required insulin supplies for the program. But they voted down amendments that would have brought down the co-pay for receiving a supply of the insulin from $75 to $25 and eliminated a provision that allows the bill to sunset in three years.

The bill moves now to a committee of Senate and House members to be revised. A compromise measure will have to be approved in both chambers before moving to the governor's desk for a vote. Gov. Tim Walz has said he supports the emergency insulin program.

Dana Ferguson is a Minnesota Capitol Correspondent for Forum News Service. Ferguson has covered state government and political stories since she joined the news service in 2018, reporting on the state's response to the COVID-19 pandemic, the divided Statehouse and the 2020 election.
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