Member testifies about soaring cost of insulin at legislative hearing

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The fight for affordable and accessible emergency insulin continues at the state Capitol.

Earlier this year, the Minnesota House passed the Alec Smith Emergency Insulin Act, the first of its kind legislation that establishes an emergency supply of insulin for diabetics who are unable to pay for prescription refills. The state Senate has not passed the bill.

The bill was named for Alec Smith who died after being forced to ration his insulin because he could not afford the prescription. The price of insulin has tripled in the last decade, and studies show that one in four diabetics ration their insulin because of the high cost. Alec’s mother, MAPE member Nicole Smith-Holt, testified at the House Health and Human Services Division hearing on Sept. 26.

Nicole Smith-Holt testifies at House hearing about Alex Smith Emergency Insulin Act

“This bill is a true need for those in Minnesota with Type 1 diabetes,” Smith-Holt said. “The outlook for diabetes is so much better than it was 50 years ago, but the financial restraints have set us back a hundred years to when the disease was a death sentence. We need to come together and pass Alec’s bill so that this emergency safety net is available to those who need it.”

Photo at right: L-R: Nicole Smith-Holt, Local 1304, and Cindy Scherer Boyd testify at House Health and Human Services Division hearing as Rep. Michael Howard (DFL-Richfield) listens.

Rep. Michael Howard (DFL-Richfield) has updated the bill following a recent series of meetings between community members and legislators; the measure now includes more lower-income Minnesotans and allows diabetics to pick up insulin at local pharmacies on the day they request the drug.

Earlier in the week, Sen. Eric Pratt (R-Prior Lake) and Senate Republicans unveiled their proposal, which would use MNsure as the administrator of the drug and provide a 120- day supply to patients after they were deemed eligible. Affordable insulin advocates, including Smith-Holt, stated that while the Senate proposal was a step in the right direction, it only addresses the urgency aspects of the insulin crisis and does not provide emergency access to the drug.

At Thursday's hearing, Smith-Holt and advocates testified that they do not see these as competing proposals, but "going hand-in-hand."  According to Sen. John Marty (DFL- Roseville), “You deal with the emergency then the urgency, then the long term."

Rep. Tina Liebling (DFL- Rochester), chair of the House Health and Human Services Finance committee, said she remained hopeful that the two chambers could reach an agreement before the start of the legislative session next February.