After the end of the last Minnesota legislative session in May, Republican lawmakers deservedly took some heat for failing to approve an emergency insulin bill for those who can’t afford it. Insulin is the medication that keeps many diabetics alive. The problem is it’s outrageously expensive. It has increased in price by 1,200% over the last 20 years. A family paying $1,300 a month for insulin here, would pay about $100 a month in Canada. Because of the exorbitant price, many diabetics have rationed their insulin, which became a fatal mistake.
Still, there was hope after the session. Republicans and Democrats talked of working out a deal and holding a special session around Labor Day. Five Minnesota Republican state senators wrote a nice letter to Minnesota newspapers, calling for a quick solution to the crisis.
The letter said, “We are not going to take no for an answer. We are committed to a real solution that will truly make a difference…We agree that we need to provide for emergency supplies of insulin to those who are at risk or harm.”
As the great Ted Knight said in the classic movie Caddyshack, “Well, we’re waiting!”
Labor Day has come and gone without a special session. State senators have called for an immediate hearing on the issue, but Republican Sen. Michelle Benson, chair of the Senate Health and Human Services Committee, has refused.
Meanwhile, another Minnesotan has died because he couldn’t afford his insulin. This time it was Jesimya (Jesy) David Scherer-Radcliff, 21, of St. Louis Park. Like Alec Smith, 26, of Minneapolis before him, Jesy died from rationing his insulin due to the unconscionable prices.
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“I’m devastated by Jesy’s death,” said Kim Munson. “It’s a death that should not have happened.”
Munson, 40, grew up in Moorhead, and now lives in Lakeville, Minn. Her daughter, 8-year-old Kinsley, has type 1 diabetes. After insurance, Munson spends $10,000 a year for Kinsley’s insulin and related supplies. She worries what might happen to Kinsley if her husband loses his health insurance, or when Kinsley becomes too old to be on the insurance of her parents.
“As a mother of a diabetic you live in constant fear,” Munson said. “She could go blind or develop severe kidney problems. If her blood sugar goes too low or too high and we don’t catch it, she could die.”
It appears the problem now is several Republicans don’t want to require the price gouging pharmaceutical companies to pay for the emergency insulin program. The biggest obstacles to a good deal are Benson and Minnesota Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka.
Some Minnesota health insurance companies should be applauded for plans to lower co-pays for insulin to $25 or nothing. However, that still leaves many Minnesotans uncovered and in danger, and is no excuse for doing nothing.
“I’m angry. I’m hurt. I’m sad,” said Munson. “I’m frustrated by the lack of progress. More people will die.”