No deal, but Gov. Walz and lawmakers agree to talk about insulin

A day after angry tweets and news conferences derailed the emergency insulin issue, Gov. Tim Walz and lawmakers turned down the heat on each other Friday.

After a 30-minute closed-door meeting, they had no deal, few specifics, but a plan to talk more. An answer on insulin access has evaded lawmakers all year.

“There’s no daylight between us on doing what’s right for Minnesota,” Walz told reporters at a joint news conference with state Sen. Eric Pratt, R-Prior Lake, and state Rep. Mike Howard, DFL-Richfield.

The House and Senate have different plans to deliver expensive, life-saving insulin to diabetics in need. But House Democrats say Senate Republicans’ proposal falls short because it doesn’t allow diabetics to get emergency access to the drug if their supply runs out.

Howard said he, Pratt and Walz agreed to merge parts of both plans and involve the insulin manufacturers in some way. Right now, Senate Republicans’ proposal forces drug companies to provide a year’s supply of free insulin to certain diabetics. House Democrats’ plan imposes a fee on drug companies to pay for a new emergency insulin access program.

“We sort of keep clearing these hurdles about our big goals. Now we just have to get across the table, work to merge these two bills, and get something accomplished,” Howard said.

Lawmakers said they planned to assemble a working group next week to start the process. But they could not name who would be on the working group or whether it would be limited to lawmakers. They also said the first meeting likely won’t be public.

A similar working group didn’t work very well this summer: it broke up without producing a compromise plan.

“I’m very optimistic that this is different,” Walz said, when asked why Minnesotans should be any more confident this time. 

Hundreds of thousands of Minnesotans have diabetes. Those who are uninsured or underinsured must come up with hundreds – if not thousands – of dollars per month to afford insulin and other diabetic supplies.

The issue has become a political football. House Democrats were upset when Senate Republicans blocked their proposal during the 2019 legislative session. Republicans have grown frustrated by a Walz campaign fundraising appeal that centers around the insulin issue.

Thursday, Walz held a news conference to press Republicans back to the bargaining table. But the first-term Democratic governor grew frustrated as GOP senators started tweeting at him, accusing him of not wanting to meet over the issue. 

Friday’s meeting cleared the air, the three participants said. The sides said they’re willing to hold a special session to pass legislation.

“We’re starting from a clean slate. We’re going to craft a bipartisan bill that’s going take elements of the emergency insulin bill, of the longer-term insulin affordability bill, and try to find areas that we agree upon,” Pratt said.