In 2017, 26-year-old Smith, a Minneapolis man with diabetes, was forced off his mother‚Äôs health insurance shortly after his birthday. He died less than a month later. Without insurance, his insulin had an out-of-pocket cost of $1,300, more than most people his age can afford to spend on rent, let alone medicine.
The goal of his namesake bill is to set up an emergency fund for diabetes patients, managed by the Minnesota Department of Human Services and funded by fees on insulin manufacturers. Once a year, patients could tap into the fund if they need help paying for life-saving medicine. The bill is pushing its way through the Minnesota House, but it‚Äôs going absolutely nowhere in the Senate.
Senator Scott Jensen (R-Chaka) is the only Republican author of Senate version of the bill. But as he told Fox 9, he has yet to convince fellow Republicans to support it.¬†
‚ÄúBecause of the workload, there‚Äôs been some hesitancy to hear all the bills in committee,‚ÄĚ he says ‚Äď making the emergency insulin fund the unfortunate casualty of legislative ‚Äútriaging.‚ÄĚ¬†
But Jensen is finding it hard to put it off another year. Mostly because he‚Äôs a doctor himself. At his Watertown clinic, he has ‚Äúoften‚ÄĚ had patients tell him they simply can‚Äôt afford as much insulin as he‚Äôs prescribing. They promise him they‚Äôre keeping their blood sugar in line in order to compensate.
But all that can change if those patients, say, catch the flu. Diabetes plays hell on the immune system, and the flu plays hell on blood sugar. A little bad luck, and they could end up with their lives at risk.
‚ÄúIt‚Äôs horrifying that people are dying and horrifying that the Legislature isn‚Äôt moving fast enough to solve this,‚ÄĚ he told Fox 9.
He blames the pharmaceutical industry, which makes billions of dollars on insulin (an average of $300 per vial in the United States) and does nothing to help people who can‚Äôt afford it.
‚ÄúThey fly in their lobbyists from other states and try to put in as much muscle as they can,‚ÄĚ Jensen says. ‚ÄúThey‚Äôre part of the problem.‚ÄĚ
But he doesn‚Äôt think this is just a Republican problem. The price of insulin has¬†doubled in the United States between 2012 and 2016 alone. During that time, both Democrats and Republicans have been in control of the Minnesota Legislature.¬†
But Big Pharma is a wily opponent. Every time measures like these arise, Jensen says the same lobbyists come out of the woodwork and make ‚Äúduplicitous‚ÄĚ arguments about ‚Äúunnecessary regulation‚ÄĚ and ‚Äúgovernment overreach.‚ÄĚ They cite patient support efforts the companies already have in place ‚Äď which, Jensen points out, are clearly not enough.¬†
‚ÄúWe‚Äôre going to stand firm and say, ‚ÄėWe‚Äôre not going to let you do this. We‚Äôre going to get this done, and you might not like it.’‚ÄĚ