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'This Is A Crisis': Lawmakers Agree On Emergency Insulin, Funding Still Under Dispute

ST. PAUL, Minn. (WCCO) -- A committee of bipartisan legislators agreed Monday to supply emergency insulin to people with diabetes, but the source of funding for the medication is still undecided.

The announcement looked like a breakthrough, but without a funding mechanism, the bill faces the problem that led it to fail this legislative session.

"The bill that could go through and the bill that could be signed tomorrow is the one that would have the insulin manufacturers pay their fair share," Gov. Tim Walz said.

Walz says when legislators agree to have pharmaceutical companies fund the Alec Smith Emergency Insulin Act, he'll call a special session to pass the bill immediately.

Alec Smith, 26, died in 2017 when he was forced to ration his insulin because he couldn't afford it.

"Hopefully his death wasn't in vain," Nicole Smith-Holt, Alec's mother, said.

Even though there isn't a deal, Smith-Holt says she's pleased that lawmakers are still talking. She will be a guest of Sen. Amy Klobuchar at the Democratic presidential debate in Detroit Tuesday. Klobuchar has championed a push for lower insulin prices at the federal level.

Another Minnesota advocate, Quinn Nystrom, will be a guest of presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders at the same debate. Nystrom accompanied Sanders on an insulin buying trip to Canada this past weekend.

"It's huge that it's gotten to the presidential level; that people are acknowledging that this is a crisis and that we have presidential candidates who are willing to step forth," Smith-Holt said.

Minnesota House leadership said the deal reached is "encouraging" and they "remain ready to move forward."

"I appreciate the work done by a bipartisan group of legislators to address insulin affordability and emergency access this interim," said Speaker Melissa Hortman. "While it's encouraging that they appear close to agreement on how a program would function, it seems the funding source remains a sticking point."

Hortman says she's hopeful the House will be able to reach a deal with the Senate on funding soon.

House Majority Leader Ryan Winkler added, "House DFLers remain committed to addressing the high price of insulin and standing up to the pharmaceutical companies profiting off of Minnesotans. This bipartisan progress is positive news, but there is more work to be done to finalize the funding source and ensure Minnesotans have access to the insulin they need to survive."

Republican Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka says he is concerned about any compromise that would be administered by the Department of Human Services, which has been plagued with a wave of resignations. Gazelka said he would support a compromise that would "help those who need it most" and "can't be abused."

According to the Health Care Cost Institute, the price of insulin has more than tripled in the last decade.


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