The Alec Smith Emergency Insulin Bill, like most health care bills named for a real person, was inspired by a story of unnecessary death.
In 2017, 26-year-old Smith, a Minneapolis man with diabetes, was forced off his mother’s health insurance shortly after his birthday. He died less than a month later. Without insurance, his insulin had an out-of-pocket cost of $1,300, more than most people his age can afford to spend on rent, let alone medicine.
The goal of his namesake bill is to set up an emergency fund for diabetes patients, managed by the Minnesota Department of Human Services and funded by fees on insulin manufacturers. Once a year, patients could tap into the fund if they need help paying for life-saving medicine. The bill is pushing its way through the Minnesota House, but it’s going absolutely nowhere in the Senate.
Senator Scott Jensen (R-Chaka) is the only Republican author of Senate version of the bill. But as he told Fox 9, he has yet to convince fellow Republicans to support it.
“Because of the workload, there’s been some hesitancy to hear all the bills in committee,” he says – making the emergency insulin fund the unfortunate casualty of legislative “triaging.”
But Jensen is finding it hard to put it off another year. Mostly because he’s a doctor himself. At his Watertown clinic, he has “often” had patients tell him they simply can’t afford as much insulin as he’s prescribing. They promise him they’re keeping their blood sugar in line in order to compensate.
But all that can change if those patients, say, catch the flu. Diabetes plays hell on the immune system, and the flu plays hell on blood sugar. A little bad luck, and they could end up with their lives at risk.
“It’s horrifying that people are dying and horrifying that the Legislature isn’t moving fast enough to solve this,” he told Fox 9.
He blames the pharmaceutical industry, which makes billions of dollars on insulin (an average of $300 per vial in the United States) and does nothing to help people who can’t afford it.
“They fly in their lobbyists from other states and try to put in as much muscle as they can,” Jensen says. “They’re part of the problem.”
But he doesn’t think this is just a Republican problem. The price of insulin has doubled in the United States between 2012 and 2016 alone. During that time, both Democrats and Republicans have been in control of the Minnesota Legislature.
But Big Pharma is a wily opponent. Every time measures like these arise, Jensen says the same lobbyists come out of the woodwork and make “duplicitous” arguments about “unnecessary regulation” and “government overreach.” They cite patient support efforts the companies already have in place – which, Jensen points out, are clearly not enough.
“We’re going to stand firm and say, ‘We’re not going to let you do this. We’re going to get this done, and you might not like it.'”