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Setting the record straight: Nystrom explains statewide insulin debate

With news of another Minnesota diabetic succumbing to insulin-rationing amid skyrocketing prescription costs, advocate Quinn Nystrom spoke with the Dispatch to clarify her side of an ongoing debate raging in St. Paul, on Capitol Hill and across the country.

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Quinn Nystrom speaks with members of the media at the end of the first #Insulin4All caravan May 4 to buy cheaper medical supplies in Fort Frances, Ontario. File photo courtesy of Quinn Nystrom
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Quinn Nystrom is here to set the record straight.

This last legislative session, state lawmakers shopped a bill to establish emergency insulin reserves for diabetics across the state -- the 2019 Alec Smith Emergency Insulin Act, named after a 26-year-old Minneapolis man who lost his health insurance and succumbed to his condition in 2017 when he tried to ration the life-sustaining medication that diabetics need on a daily basis.

However, despite widespread bipartisan support, the Alec Smith act failed to be included in the final health and human services omnibus bill. This was the result of a miscue, state Sen. Michelle Benson, R-Ham Lake, said at the time, describing it as a clerical error.

Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka said the state Legislature will take another look at the Alex Smith Emergency Insulin bill in the coming session Feb. 11, 2020. At the time, he said it was unlikely the bill would get a hearing in special session. While Gazelka noted it’s not unusual for emotionally-charged legislation to fail one session, just to overwhelmingly pass the next, the nationwide discussion isn’t likely to lose steam with news of another death.

Friday, July 12, friends and family announced 21-year-old Minneapolis man Jesimya David Scherer-Radcliff died as a result of rationing his insulin. Nystrom has repeatedly urged lawmakers to pass legislation that represents a stop-gap solution for an ongoing crisis that puts thousands in jeopardy.

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Quinn Nystrom -- flanked by supportive parents Bob Nystrom and Rachel Reabe Nystrom -- kicks off an #Insulin4All caravan to buy cheaper medical supplies in Fort Frances, Ontario. File photo courtesy of Quinn Nystrom

Nystrom took issue with the Dispatch’s July 13th headline: “Diabetes advocate lambastes state GOP for not passing insulin act, but Gazelka pushes back against allegations” -- noting her criticisms were mainly leveled at Minnesota Senate Republican leadership, while she had enjoyed fruitful discussions with GOP figures at all levels of government.

“When I say it’s a non-partisan issue, I believe that,” said Nystrom, who reiterated she’s advocating for insulin-dependent diabetics of all political stripes. “I meet with whatever side will meet with me. … At the end of the day, that’s all I can ask for. I can’t ask them to vote a certain way.”

State Rep. John Poston, R-Lake Shore, confirmed he had spoken at length with Nystrom and expressed solidarity with Nystrom’s frustration with high-prescription costs -- noting that he too is a diabetic, a sufferer of Type 2.

“I’m a diabetic. I get it and I support her efforts,” said Poston, who said he’s looking to work with Nystrom to get the bill passed in the 2020 Legislative session. “We had a lot of conversation about it during the session and I’m not sure why the bill didn’t make it into the final Senate HHS omnibus bill.”

Two other local politicians Nystrom said she had spoken with at various times and listed by name -- state Rep. Josh Heintzeman and state Sen. Carrie Ruud -- did not respond for requests by deadline. Ruud did not answer repeated phone calls. Heintzeman, who has expressed aversion to conducting face-to-face or phone interviews, did not return requests via email.

In addition to these lawmakers, Nystrom said she has sought to speak with Gazelka on multiple occasions, but to no avail. At the time, Gazelka refuted these statements, telling the Dispatch Friday, July 12, that Nystrom had not contacted his office or spoken with Gazelka himself on the subject of reducing insulin costs. He extended an invitation for further conversation.

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Paul Gazelka
Paul Gazelka

But Nystrom has contacted Gazelka’s office. She presented phone records to the Dispatch that indicate a 6:03 p.m. call on May 23 and a follow-up attempt at 10:46 a.m., May 24. She noted she either did not receive a response, or didn’t hear back from assistants who answered her call.

In a statement to the Dispatch, Gazelka conceded these calls may have occurred, but during a particularly busy stretch of business down in St. Paul.

“Our office may have took the calls but I was in negotiations with the Governor and the Speaker on May 23rd and 24th and wasn’t seeing any lobbyists or constituents at that point,” Gazelka wrote. “I’m still willing to see Quinn Nystrom about her concerns and what we might be able to do to help people with life-threatening problems.”

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