Labor Day is a mere six weeks away. The Minnesota State Fair’s start, a bit over a month. Closer still is the Aug. 9 kickoff of the Minnesota Vikings’ first preseason game.
With autumn looming, state lawmakers and Gov. Tim Walz owe Minnesotans an update on whether a fall special session tackling a critical public health reform — emergency insulin assistance — will take place. If not, explanations are also in order about why it’s OK to wait until 2020 to try again to pass this legislation.
The 2019 Minnesota Legislative session ended with a bang, not a whimper, in May. That was due in part to the last-minute failure of bills to help diabetics access insulin temporarily if they can’t afford it.
The legislation’s demise spurred outrage from the state’s insulin activists, who have garnered national headlines for “caravans” to buy cheaper insulin in Canada. One of the group’s leaders is Nicole Smith-Holt, whose 26-year-old son Alec died in 2017 after he began rationing the medication.
The public pressure got results. In June, Walz said he’s open to calling a special session to pass an emergency bill. But he also said lawmakers had to put together a deal that could pass both legislative chambers.
A handful of legislators commendably took up the governor’s challenge. Among them: DFL Sen. Matt Little, DFL Rep. Mike Howard and Republican Sens. Jim Abeler and Scott Jensen. There have been multiple meetings and e-mail exchanges but little public information about these efforts.
It appears there’s been progress, and that working behind closed doors may have helped smooth over discord lingering from the session’s end. But it’s now time to tell Minnesotans who struggle with diabetes, or have family members who do so, if a fall special session is in the cards.
Issues that have yet to be resolved also should be aired publicly. One involves the program’s funding source. Should insulin manufacturers bear the program’s cost, which is estimated at $10 million a year? Or should state taxpayers?
Another facet of the debate in need of clarity is whether the Republican lawmakers working on the issue, who seem to agree that action is needed sooner vs. later, have the support of Senate leadership. Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka has not publicly embraced calls for an insulin special session. This week, he provided this statement to an editorial writer: “I believe we will find agreement on a solution no later than next session.”
An estimated 26,500 Minnesotans would qualify for the program if it’s enacted. It’s not hard to see why affordability is a struggle. Prices tripled on average between 2002 and 2013, according to GoodRx.com. The average price has gone up 64% since 2014.
If coupons and other current industry affordability programs worked, Nicole Smith-Holt might be enjoying the summer with her son Alec. The same may be true for another Minnesota family, the Radcliffs, who blamed the recent death of 21-year-old Jesy on insulin rationing.
It’s time for lawmakers to tell Minnesotans how they’re going to help — and when.