After affordable insulin fails in Minnesota, Quinn Nystrom runs for office

Quinn Nystrom is best known for organizing bus trips to Canada so Minnesotans can get affordable insulin. Now she's taking on Republican Rep. Pete Stauber.

Quinn Nystrom is best known for organizing bus trips to Canada so Minnesotans can get affordable insulin. Now she's taking on Republican Rep. Pete Stauber. Glen Stubbe, Star Tribune

Quinn Nystrom of Baxter has been standing up for others since she was 10 years old. That’s when she first became a diabetes activist, shortly after her little brother was diagnosed with Type 1.

A few years later, she got it too. It would have been a perfect opportunity to slow down, maybe knock on fewer doors or speak in fewer classrooms. She didn’t.

Nystrom is in her 30s now. The insulin she needs to survive went from $20 a vial to several hundred out of pocket. Today, about 25 percent of all insulin prescriptions go unfilled. The loss of a job or insurance coverage can mean rationing a dwindling supply of life-saving medicine. In some cases, as it was for 26-year-old Minnesotan Alec Smith-Holt, it can mean dying before your next paycheck.

During the last legislative session, Nystrom was one of the loudest voices asking for state legislators to make insulin more affordable and accessible. She started leading big caravan trips to Canada to get the same insulin for just $30 a vial—compared to $300-$400 in the U.S—knowing this could never be a true solution to a potentially fatal problem.

Then she tried to get some diabetes roundtables going, including one with Republican Rep. Pete Stauber. But eventually, his office just stopped calling, according to the Duluth News Tribune.

Now, at the peak of both her activism and her frustration with lawmakers, she’s running for Congress. She hopes to represent Minnesota’s 8th District—Iron Range country—as a Democrat. Her opponent is Stauber, one of the legislators she once petitioned for help.

There are some 460,000 Minnesotans with diabetes, and a lot of them are paying attention to Nystrom in the wake of last session’s failure to address a life-or-death problem for the community. She regularly gets “dozens” of messages at a time, but now her phone has been ringing off the hook.

"I have a track record of standing up publicly to pharmaceutical companies," she says. And for the record, no, she will not be taking money from them. 

But running in Stauber’s territory also means talking pipelines, mining, and labor issues. Nystrom told the Tribune she was “open-minded” on the issue of copper-nickel mining on the Range, but “concerned” about Twin Metals attempting it so near the Boundary Waters.

It also means addressing the elephant in the room: President Donald Trump. In 2016, he achieved a solid win in the district by a margin of nearly 16 points. Since then, he’s been singing his own praises for revitalizing mining efforts in the area. According to MPR, Nystrom hasn’t yet taken a stance on impeachment. Stauber called the inquiry “irresponsible.”

But the bottom line, as she told MPR, is that she wouldn’t be running if she didn’t think she could win. 

After all, she’s been trying to change policy for over 20 years. She has no reason to stop now.