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State lawmakers still stuck in efforts to reach solution to insulin crisis

House Photography file photo

A bipartisan House and Senate working group remain stuck in their efforts to find a way to get Minnesota diabetics access to emergency insulin, a public hearing on Wednesday made clear.

Leading lawmakers in both parties have made it a high priority to create a state insulin assistance program since the 2019 legislative session began nearly 12 months ago.

But state legislators and Gov. Tim Walz have yet to reach agreement on how to tackle the issue, even blowing past a late November deadline the governor had set for taking action.

The House and Senate Insulin Working Group, established in October with the hope of finding a solution in 60 days, delivered an update on their work Wednesday. Despite months of discussion, the public hearing showed House DFLers and Senate Republicans remain at loggerheads over key parts of a plan to help diabetics obtain emergency supplies of insulin, a drug whose price has skyrocketed dangerously in recent years.

House, Senate working group provide update on emergency insulin negotiations - 12/18/19

Rep. Michael Howard (DFL-Richfield) — who co-chairs the working group with Sen. Eric Pratt (R-Prior Lake) — said everyone involved understands that many Minnesotans are risking their lives by rationing insulin because it has become too expensive.

“The challenge we have yet to clear is coalescing around that solution,” Howard said.

WATCH Community conversation on insulin access and costs 8/14/19

Lawmakers say some areas of general agreement have been reached. They include targeting eligibility at Minnesotans most likely to ration their insulin; allowing patients to access the drug immediately in a crisis; the participation of insulin manufacturers in the program; reporting from MNsure and manufacturers to ensure compliance and evaluate the program.

But a number of outstanding issues remain. DFLers and Republicans disagree on details ranging from who would be eligible, what role drug manufacturers would play in the program, where Minnesotans would obtain the drugs — whether through doctors or through pharmacies — and how long an emergency supply of the drug the program would provide.

Senate Republicans have also proposed that the program sunset in two years; House DFLers have said they don’t support a sunset.

WATCH Full video of the working group's hearing 

Pratt said the Senate is not looking at “an emergency plan and a long-term plan, we’re talking about a comprehensive approach to how we help Minnesotans get the help they need.”

Walz and lawmakers have made repeated calls for a special session to address the crisis since the 2019 session ended in late May. An agreement on emergency insulin fell out of a final budget deal before legislators adjourned.

The 2020 session is scheduled to begin Feb. 11.

Howard said he believed lawmakers can reach agreement on the issue by the end of the year, just two weeks away.

“Now is the time to feel the sense of urgency to get us across the finish line,” he said.

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