The most inexcusable dereliction of duty at the last Minnesota Legislative session was the failure to approve a bill for emergency insulin. To many, it’s a matter of life or death. Sorry to say, the legislators, primarily the Republicans, chose not to save lives.
Insulin is the medication that keeps many diabetics alive. The defeated bill would have required manufacturers to pay for a program that provided emergency access to those who can’t afford their insulin.
The issue came to the surface due to the tragic case of Alec Smith, 26, of Minneapolis. Alec, a Type 1 diabetic, needed to take insulin at least four times a day. It cost $200 to $300 a month, and was covered by his mother’s health insurance. However, when Alec turned 26, he was no longer allowed on his mother’s insurance. So, his insulin charge skyrocketed to a mind-boggling $1,300 a month, which he couldn’t afford. The higher costs were effective June 1, 2017. By the end of the month, Alec was dead.
Unbeknownst to his family, Alec was rationing his insulin because of the high cost. He died from a lack of insulin.
“I was in complete shock,” said Alec’s mother, Nicole Smith-Holt. “I was angry that he was gone. I was extremely upset when the medical examiner told me the cause of his death.”
Unfortunately, the Alec Smith case is hardly unique. Smith-Holt says tens of thousands of people are dying every year in the U.S. from a lack of insulin, and she’s heard from many of those families. A Yale University study found that nearly 1 in 4 patients are dangerously cutting back on their insulin because of the high price.
That price tripled between 2002 and 2013. It has roughly increased by a whopping 1,200% in the last 20 years. This is outrageous. This is price gouging at its worst. Alec Smith’s $1,300 monthly supply of insulin only costs about $60 in Canada or Mexico. So, Smith-Holt took the issue to the Minnesota Legislature.
“This is a crisis,” Smith-Holt said. “We need laws in place that would negotiate and cap pricing. We need the pharmaceutical companies to fix the problem they caused.”
“It’s appalling that in this day and age someone in Minnesota would die because he can’t afford medication,” said Rep. Paul Marquart, D-Dilworth. “This should not be happening. There needs to be something in place for people to get the drugs they need.”
Smith-Holt blames Republicans for the bill’s failure. She says they offered a watered down bill that was worthless. Still, she’s not giving up.
“Too many people are dying,” she said. “We’re still fighting so we can save lives.”
A special session of the Minnesota Legislature needs to be called now to address this disaster. Congress must also act. This problem will not go away by itself. How many more people have to die before legislators take action?