One of the biggest priorities for my colleagues and me going into the 2020 legislative session is addressing the rising costs of health care, and few costs have risen as quickly as prescription drugs and medications. I’ve heard from many constituents about the tough decisions they’ve had to make to pay for vital, and potentially life saving medications.
This is especially true for the cost of insulin which has skyrocketed in price over the last decade. While it’s available for as low as $25 a vial in Canada, there are families in Minnesota who are paying over $1,000 a month for their insulin. These prices are unacceptable and immoral. The doctors who first created insulin sold the patent for $1, because they recognized it was unethical for a doctor to profit from a discovery that would save lives. They wanted everyone who needed their medication to be able to afford it. Yet today, even for those people who have good insurance, insulin can be out of reach.
We’ve seen the devastating results of these high prices, with diabetics rationing their insulin or buying over the counter insulin that may not work well for their bodies. A young Minnesotan who was forced to ration his insulin, Alec Smith, died as a result of these costs being a barrier to the insulin he needed. In response to his tragic loss, legislation was introduced to provide emergency insulin access for diabetics facing this dire situation.
The Alec Smith Insulin Act would establish an emergency insulin program for those that cannot afford the drug. Since the exorbitant cost of insulin has become a life-threatening barrier to diabetics around the country, and Minnesota had an opportunity to make emergency insulin available through a new fee on insulin manufacturers. Despite publicly stating support and amending the program onto legislation on the floor in a unanimous vote, Republican leaders in the Senate failed to include it in the final budget agreement passed during the special session.
It is inexcusable that we did not get this passed in the 2019 legislative session. That’s why I have joined with my colleagues in calling for a special session to pass a bipartisan, compromise version of this bill that can pass the Senate, House and get signed into law by Gov. Tim Walz. This should not be a partisan issue. It’s time for us to hammer out a compromise that delivers emergency access for those that need it, that is paid for by the pharmaceutical companies that have been profiting off of people.
While emergency access is the priority, it does not get to the root of these skyrocketing costs. A special session should be called to get an emergency program in place, but there is more work we will need to do in the 2020 legislative session to address costs.
We did take a positive step in 2019 with the Health and Human Services Omnibus Budget bill by requiring Pharmacy Benefit Managers to communicate regularly with all pharmacies the cost for prescription drugs including any rebates or discounts available from a drug manufacturer. Minnesotans deserve more transparency at a time when the pharmaceutical industry keeps pointing their fingers at each other over high costs while prescription drugs prices only rise higher and higher. More information will help everyone, from lawmakers to patients, make more informed decisions that will make health care more affordable and put patients first.
Though the legislative session is now over, we will be busy between now and the 2020 legislative session. Don't hesitate to call my office at 651-297-8060 with any questions or concerns.