What day is it? With insulin deal stuck, Minn. lawmakers quibble over calendars

Minnesota lawmakers, who have failed to strike a deal to make insulin cheaper for thousands of diabetics, quibbled Monday over the deadline they set for themselves.

Gov. Tim Walz said lawmakers should break the impasse by calling public hearings on insulin access, ending the closed-door negotiations of the past month. Walz said that could pave the way for a single-day special session before the holidays.

“They’ve been working 30 days on this. My goodness,” Walz told reporters Monday morning, with an insulin vial perched on the corner of his podium for effect. “We’ve been working since May, when we thought we had a proposal. This shouldn’t be that hard.”

But the simplest issues have turned into disputes. Walz and House Democrats said a self-imposed, 30-day deadline to reach an agreement was Monday. But Senate Republicans, citing a different start date, said the clock won’t expire until Wednesday.

The disagreement stemmed from different starting dates: Walz and Democrats said the clock started with an Oct. 18 meeting in the governor’s office, while Senate Republicans said it started when Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka laid out the 30-day timeline in an Oct. 21 letter.

Regardless of the start date, Walz and lawmakers are nowhere close to an agreement.

Legislators have two different plans. The Senate proposal would force drug companies to give a year’s worth of free insulin to Minnesotans who meet income restrictions and other requirements.

The Senate plan does not allow diabetics in crisis to get a dose of insulin right away, as the House plan does. The House proposal imposes a fee on drug companies to run the emergency access program.

Lawmakers on a working group have met four times behind closed doors since mid-October. State Sen. Eric Pratt, who authored the Senate insulin proposal and sits on the working group, said he favored another meeting of the working group.

“The public hearings in the Senate and the House this interim did not result in an agreement,” Pratt, R-Prior Lake, said in an emailed statement. “However, the working group is making good progress on key issues. We know this issue is urgent, so I am calling for a meeting this week.”

Senate Republicans did not make Pratt nor any other GOP senator available for an interview on the insulin subject Monday.

Meanwhile, Democrats held a news conference in support of Walz’s call for public hearings.

“It’s great that we continue to meet and talk,” said state Rep. Michael Howard, DFL-Richfield, who authored the House bill. “But it’s time to turn the corner and move the ball forward and talk about what we’re going to do and where we stand.”

The price of insulin has soared since 2000. Insulin advocates say three Minnesotans have died since 2017 from rationing their insulin, unable to afford the full dosage.

Several insurance companies have reduced the cost of insulin to $25 or less in Minnesota. But that provides no help to diabetics who are underinsured or have no health insurance.

Alexis Stanley, a Concordia University junior and a type 1 diabetic, said she was frustrated by the inaction and the closed-door meetings.

“It feels delayed, for sure. I just feel like it’s empty promise after empty promise,” Stanley said in an interview. “There are Minnesotans here that can’t do an empty promise.”