Last weekend I held a listening session for members of the community and advocates on the issue of affordable insulin. I want to thank everyone that came to share experiences and frustrations about affording insulin and managing life with diabetes. I thought one of the people who attended summarized the issue when she said “insulin to diabetics is like oxygen to everyone else...it’s that important.” This comment is underscored when you realize that several people in their 20s have died trying to ration their insulin to manage the cost.

Throughout the summer and fall, I am grateful to the many Scott County residents that have told me how diabetes has affected their family. As a leader of the working group looking for ways to ensure Minnesotans can afford insulin, your stories help me work toward a solution that will address the challenges you face.

The working group I’m leading with members of the House, Senate and governor’s office is looking at potential solutions. There’s currently a House plan and a Senate plan, that I introduced, which take very different approaches to the problem. My plan uses already-established processes to minimize disruption and reinforces a doctor-centered approach to healthcare.

This Senate program establishes an insulin affordability program as a safety net for anyone at or below 400% of the poverty line which equates to nearly $50,000 for a single person and over $100,000 for a family of four. Insulin-dependent Minnesotans would be able to use MNsure to apply for the program and determine their eligibility. From there:

  • MNsure would have up to five days to verify the patient’s eligibility and notify the patient.
  • The patient would have their doctor fill-in the prescription information and send the form to the appropriate manufacturer. The manufacturer needs a doctor’s prescription on file, just like a pharmacy would.
  • Within a few days the insulin maker will send the insulin for a specific patient to the prescribing doctor for pick-up. Insulin is a drug that spoils if mishandled, so sending it to the doctor ensures it is handled properly. The doctor will not be able to co-pay for picking up the insulin.
  • MNsure will refer the patient to a navigator to complete the eligibility verification.
  • The MNsure navigator will also check to see if the patient is already eligible for a public assistance program. MNsure can help uninsured patients become insured or direct people with insurance to a better option.

I believe it’s imperative that any legislation we advance creates a system that catches people before they are in an emergency and prevents rationing. Helping insulin-dependent Minnesotans when they’re in a crisis is more dangerous for them and more complex to solve. That is why the Senate plan will have a webpage on MNsure and pharmacists will display signage. In addition, since so many of the people affected are 26 years old coming off their parent’s insurance, notice will be sent 90 days before their birthdays.

As we work through differences between my plan and the House Democrats’ plan, I’m still concerned that their plan takes almost a year to implement, is too expensive, and doesn’t have a solution for patients after 90 days. I am also afraid the House proposal relies too much on the dysfunctional Department of Human Services that, according to the Legislative Auditor, needs to get its own organization under control before taking on a huge new project.

On Saturday I heard a lot about needing a more holistic approach to fixing healthcare, because while insulin affordability is an issue, it’s part of a larger issue where we’ve seen costs escalate after the passage of the Affordable Care Act in 2010. Senate Republicans agree and that’s why we’ve proposed this stopgap measure to help with insulin affordability while we work on larger solutions.

One of those solutions we already passed is a law preventing corporations from profiting off insulin rebates. As a result, we have seen all major health insurers step up and cap co-payments on insulin to $25. We are working on drug re-importation to increase competition and improve cost access to important medications.

Over the past few months, we’ve listened to people dependent on insulin to survive, their families, doctors, and other stakeholders to better understand insulin affordability. It’s very important for this to be a collaborative process where we’re hearing from everyone involved. I appreciate that Rep. Tony Albright, R-Prior Lake, decided to attend and listen, and for his willingness to provide his perspective as an integral member of the Minnesota House Health & Human Services Policy Committee.

If you have any questions or comments about insulin affordability and what we’re trying to do, please reach out. I’m really proud of the Senate Republican Insulin Patient Assistance Program and am looking forward to this working group making progress for the people of Minnesota.

Sen. Eric Pratt (R-Prior Lake) represents District 55 in the state Senate. He can be reached at 651-296-4123 or sen.eric.pratt@senate.mn.

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