It was a rare point of agreement in the Minnesota Legislature – something needed to be done to address the skyrocketing costs of insulin. The Alec Smith Emergency Insulin Act, named for a 26-year-old Minnesotan who died trying to ration his last vial of insulin, was going to be the solution.
Republicans and Democrats said they supported the bill. Minnesota voters overwhelmingly support the measure. And Gov. Tim Walz wanted it on his desk.
But when the legislative session came to a close, the bill wasn’t passed. Cue the blame game. Republicans blamed the failure on a clerical error, and Democrats blamed it on Republicans.
Senate Health and Human Services Committee Chair Michelle Benson (R-Ham Lake) said the bill wasn’t included in the final “negotiating spreadsheet” provided to her committee by the House.
“The Senate fought hard and made sacrifices to keep many measures to reduce the cost of insulin and other life-saving drugs. The cost of insulin has been turned into a political punching bad to the detriment of patients and I find it disingenuous for Rep. Liebling to immediately blame others for a specific provision being left out of the bill,” Benson said in a press release.
House Speaker Melissa Hortman (DFL-Brooklyn Park) wrote on Twitter that “Republicans flatly refused to include it” in the final Health and Human Services budget bill.
“The Governor and DFL-led House supported it and fought until the very last minute to include it,” she said.
— Melissa Hortman (@melissahortman) May 24, 2019
Sen. Jim Abeler (R-Anoka), who serves on the Senate Health and Human Services Committee alongside Benson, called Hortman’s accusations “untrue.”
“There was no ‘fight to the end.’ The word ‘insulin’ was not mentioned in our large working group meetings. Nor in the two tribunal meetings I was part of. Also no bonafide spreadsheet offer was made. There is certainly room for agreement, but disparaging: not productive,” Abeler said on Twitter.
Untrue. There was no “fight to the end.” The word “insulin” was not mentioned in our large working group meetings. Nor in the two tribunal meetings I was part of. Also no bonafide spreadsheet offer was made. There is certainly room for agreement, but disparaging: not productive. https://t.co/h3ZvovWRW9
— Jim Abeler (@jimabeler) May 24, 2019
House Majority Leader Ryan Winkler (DFL-Golden Valley) then accused Republicans of selling out to “Big Pharma.”
“Senate Republicans killed the Alec Smith Emergency Insulin Act and sold out to Big Pharma,” Winkler told TPT Almanac. “The skyrocketing price increases for drugs like insulin have to do with one thing: greed.”
Abeler again responded to the accusations on Twitter.
“Cool quote, if its facts were true. The nuance changes with the fact that every House DFLer voted against a similar amendment only minutes later. It’s time to stop the petty slander and focus on saving lives. It has been a bipartisan failure and now can be a bipartisan success,” he said.
Cool quote, if it’s facts were true. The nuance changes w/ the fact that every House DFLer voted against a similar amendment only minutes later. It’s time to stop the petty slander & focus on saving lives. It has been a bipartisan failure, & now can be a bipartisan success. Soon. https://t.co/lAwCzZo0sx
— Jim Abeler (@jimabeler) June 13, 2019
The conversation has gone back and forth like this for weeks. Further complicating the matter is disagreement on how exactly the program created by the bill would be funded. Republicans apparently think the money should come from the state’s general fund or related sources of revenue, while Democrats want to impose a fee on insulin providers.
Gov. Walz, perhaps in an effort to quite the noise, hosted a roundtable discussion with diabetics and advocates on Wednesday. He said he’s open to calling a special session to address the matter, but only if there’s 100-percent agreement.
“We have stated very clearly that we will not call a special session unless there’s an agreement ready to go,” he added. “If they are very close, we can bring them back in for a short amount of time.”
Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka, however, had already expressed his disagreement with calling a special session.
“I’m hearing there are calls for a special session … we agreed to a compromise and everyone has something they didn’t get,” he wrote on Twitter. “I’d like to revisit adding a sunset on the sick tax too.”
I’m hearing there are calls for a special session… we agreed to compromise and everyone has something they didn’t get. I’d like to revisit adding a sunset on the sick tax too. #mnleg
— Paul Gazelka (@paulgazelka) June 6, 2019
If no special session is called, the Minnesota Legislature won’t be able to resolve the issue until it reconvenes on February 11, 2020.
According to a recent poll from Change Research, 74 percent of registered voters in Minnesota either strongly or somewhat support the Alec Smith Emergency Insulin Act.
– – –
Anthony Gockowski is managing editor of Battleground State News, The Ohio Star, and The Minnesota Sun. Follow Anthony on Twitter. Email tips to [email protected].
Photo “Governor Tim Walz” by Lorie Shaull CC2.0.