Our Opinion: Insulin bill needs to pass


We admire Baxter resident Quinn Nystrom’s advocacy for diabetics, especially Type 1 diabetics who are struggling to afford life-saving insulin.

Part of Nystrom’s -- and numerous others -- efforts have been highlighted through publicity trips to buy insulin in Canada, where it costs a tenth of the price it is being sold for in Minnesota; and lobbying the Minnesota Legislature to pass the Alec Smith Emergency Insulin Act, which would have created emergency insulin reserves for diabetics across the state who cannot afford a refill.

That bill needs to become law.

The Alec Smith Emergency Insulin Act is certainly warranted. A typical vial of insulin that will last a diabetic about 10 days costs about $300 without insurance in the United States. In Canada, the exact same type of insulin can be purchased for just $30.

The increase in the price has been dramatic in recent years, the St. Paul Pioneer Press reported. The price has nearly doubled from 2012 to 2016, according to the nonprofit organization Health Care Cost Institute. On average in 2012, patients spent $2,864 annually. In 2016, that nearly doubled to about $5,705 annually.


Simply put, the cost is too high for many Americans living with diabetes.

About 1.25 million Americans are living with Type 1 diabetes. And of those Americans taking insulin, one in four are rationing it because they can’t afford it. That’s not only a risky decision but a life-threatening one -- there have been two recent high profile cases of Minnesotans dying because they were rationing their insulin. Diabetics shouldn’t be forced to make such choices.

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.

We share in Nystrom’s disappointment in that legislative failure but we hold out hope that such a bill, which Republican and DFL legislators alike think is a good idea, will be law sooner rather than later in our state.

Will it happen through a special session this year, as proposed by Gov. Tim Walz if the House and the Senate can come together on a bill? Realistically, probably not. But when the 2020 legislative session kicks off, we would hope the House, Senate and governor put it at the top of their agendas.

Bipartisanship is rare enough, but the Minnesota Legislature -- the only split legislature in the country -- showed it was possible in the 2019 session. What better way to start off next year’s session than by passing the Alec Smith bill into law.

We realize the Alec Smith Emergency Insulin Act is just one small fix in an overall struggle against escalating prescription drug prices, but a win is a win. And this one should be a no-brainer -- everyone looks good if it passes.

Nystrom is right -- this isn’t a political issue, it’s a life or death issue. The Alec Smith Emergency Insulin Act won’t lower the astronomical price of insulin, but it could provide a safety net for those who can’t afford it.

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