Minnesota lawmakers' insulin ‘deal' missing key piece

Minnesota lawmakers said Monday they have reached an agreement on an emergency insulin program, but they’re missing the most critical piece: how to pay for it.

A handful of lawmakers sent news releases promoting the work of a bipartisan group that has been trying for months to find agreement. Lawmakers generally agree that uninsured or underinsured diabetics should have access to insulin regardless of their ability to pay, but they haven’t agreed on how to fund the program.

Gov. Tim Walz and House Democrats have proposed a new fee on drug companies, while some Senate Republicans have advocated using existing state tax revenue to pay for the program.

“I’m glad to see they’re working together,” Walz told reporters Monday, after the news releases started hitting inboxes. “You’ll see folks stand up, grandstand a bit, say they want to fix it, and not come up with a way to pay for it.

“The bill that could be signed tomorrow on our desk is to have the insulin manufacturers pay their fair share in this – to make sure there’s a fee added on – and we could fix it today,” he said.

Walz holds the power to call lawmakers back for a special session on insulin access, but said he would not do so until lawmakers agree on a funding mechanism.

Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka said he was open to a special session, but raised concerns about how the beleaguered Department of Human Services would be involved in running the proposed emergency program.

“The compromise should help those who need it most, can’t be abused or become another area of fraud, and preferably is something that gives us a path forward to lowering the cost of all prescription drugs for Minnesotans,” Gazelka, R-Nisswa, said in a statement.

State Sen. Jim Abeler, the Republican chairman of the Senate Human Services committee, said in his own news release that Walz, Gazelka and House Speaker Melissa Hortman needed to become involved in the negotiating process. The trio negotiated many of the secret budget deals late in the legislative session, a process that lacked transparency but avoided a government shutdown.

Sen. Matt Little, D-Lakeville, said in a statement that the bipartisan agreement would allow diabetics to get a 20-day emergency supply, with an additional two-month supply available for people who met financial requirements.

“It’s far from perfect, but this deal will save lives,” Little said.