Questions raised about GOP insulin plan

Senate Republicans plan to require drug makers to provide free insulin.
Minnesota Senate Republican leaders propose a plan to require drugmakers to provide free insulin to qualifying residents who can't afford the high cost of the life-saving medication on Thursday. Pictured left to right at a news conference at the Capitol are Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka, Sen. Eric Pratt at the podium, Sen. Dan Hall and Sen. Michelle Benson.
Steve Karnowski | AP Photo file

People struggling with the cost of insulin and others voiced concerns about a Republican proposal aimed at making the medication more accessible and affordable.

The questions came as the Senate Human Services Finance and Policy Committee held the first hearing on the proposal Monday.

The plan from Sen. Eric Pratt, R-Prior Lake, and other Senate Republicans, is designed to help increase access to insulin for those who can’t afford it.

“The intent is not to replace insurance, undo the impact of last session’s legislation, or really undo any of the existing assistance programs,” Pratt said at the hearing. “This program addresses the issue of insulin affordability.”

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The proposal would require manufacturers to supply health care providers with insulin at no cost. Physicians would then prescribe the insulin directly to individuals who are eligible based on income requirements.

To be eligible, people must have a family income less than 400 percent of the federal poverty guidelines, which is about $50,000 for individuals and $100,000 for a family of four.

Some at the hearing raised concerns about the proposal, including its lack of access for rural patients and the five-day waiting period between applying for the program and being determined eligible.

Nicole Holt-Smith, whose adult son Alec Smith died after 24 hours without insulin, said the proposal as it is now would not provide the immediate help that diabetics in emergency situations would require.

“Lives can be lost during that waiting period,” Holt-Smith said. “Doctors already have full plates — how can we realistically expect them to take on more?”

Democratic senators on the committee echoed Holt-Smith’s concerns about the waiting period, and brought up legislation from House Democrats that failed to pass last legislative session. DFL lawmakers plan to release a revised version of that proposal on Thursday.

“I don’t disagree this will help … I’m saying I don’t think this will help everyone in Alec Smith’s position,” Sen. John Marty, DFL-Roseville, said. “But this would be a great addition as well, so I think hearing both bills makes the most sense.”