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Gov. Walz Seeks Public Hearings Over Emergency Insulin Impasse

ST. PAUL, Minn. (WCCO) -- Gov. Tim Walz wants public hearings for Republicans and Democrats to reach a deal free emergency insulin for patients.

The Democratic House and Republican Senate passed proposals last spring to provide emergency supplies of the life sustaining medication for those who can't afford it, but a compromise was ever reached.

Republicans said last month they thought a deal could be reached in 30 days. Since then, negotiations have gone on behind closed doors. Walz says it time for that to change.

"Lets do these hearing out in the open. I understand sometimes that in delicate negotiations there is a need to step back and see if you can compromise. We have tried for 30 days and my understanding is that Friday an offer was tendered but not able to be accepted," Walz said. "There is no reason this is an issue we can not solve. There is no reason we can't deal with the emergency side for people who are uninsured and need it immediately, and the long-term costs."

The hold-up continues to center around how the emergency supply will be provided to patients and who will pay for it. Republicans want doctors to distribute the free insulin. Democrats and patient advocacy groups want pharmacies to be the distributors. Democrats want free emergency insulin for anyone within 600% of federal poverty guidelines; for a family of four, that's $150,000 a year.

Supporters of the high income benchmark say it's needed because of the medication's soaring costs. And while both sides agree manufacturers should pay for the emergency program, there are disagreements over just how much.

"Since we started working on this proposal we have had two Minnesotans, we know about, lose their lives. This is about saving people's lives," Rep. Michael Howard said.

Republicans say the closed-door working group is "making good progress," with Republican Sen. Eric Pratt saying he is calling for a meeting this week.

Nicole Smith-Holt's son Alec died because he was rationing his insulin.

"If we are going to force physicians to hold onto insulin for patients that is a true barrier for people," she said.

Walz said he is optimistic that a deal and special session could happen on the issue before the start of 2020.

Sen. Melissa Halvorson Wiklund said that she would agree to a public hearing on insulin.

"A public hearing will provide transparency and help us move forward in the most productive manner. This can't wait any longer. Together, we can find a solution that includes ideas from the House and Senate, and DFLers and Republicans alike," she said. "It is time for a public hearing where we can hear from experts, advocates, and Minnesotans most directly affected, on the two proposals."

A spokesperson for the special interest group Minnesota #insulin4all said that legislators have "fallen short of coming up with an insulin affordability plan that meets the urgent needs of people with diabetes in Minnesota and have conducted their negotiations behind closed doors, leaving advocates in the dark on where they're at in their planning. ... Not one more Minnesotan should have to ration, choose between insulin or feeding their family, or die because they can't afford insulin."

Republicans have said that the 30-day period for discussions is not actually up for two more days. It's not currently clear when the next public, or private, meeting will be held.

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