Walz calls for public hearings to break insulin impasse

Share story

A man in a yellow tie speaks at a podium.
At a news conference Monday to urge public hearings on insulin legislation, Gov. Tim Walz holds up a gold-plated vial of insulin he received from a person with diabetes struggling with the cost of the medicine.
Brian Bakst | MPR News

Gov. Tim Walz on Monday urged Minnesota lawmakers to hold public hearings to try to break an impasse over legislation to make insulin more affordable.

Lawmakers in an insulin work group have made little apparent progress in closed-door talks over the past month toward reconciling the differences between competing House Democratic and Senate Republican plans.

The governor told reporters that public hearings with testimony from experts and advocates could provide the necessary push to find middle ground and reach a deal that lawmakers could pass in a one-day special session sometime between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Day, rather than waiting for the 2020 regular session, which opens Feb. 11.

“I think we’ve reached the end of what the closed-door negotiations can get us, and now it’s time to pull that forward,” he said.

Here’s a look at the issue, the proposals in play and the differences between leaders of the House Democratic and Senate Republican majorities that have held up an agreement.

Unfinished business

An emergency insulin proposal passed the House last session following emotional testimony about diabetics who had been forced to ration their insulin because of the soaring costs.

But Republicans who control the Senate balked toward the end of the session, and the language was dropped in the final hours of negotiations. Lawmakers kept talking, though, and Senate Republicans floated their proposal in September.

Both sides agreed last month to form a work group with a goal of trying to reach a compromise within 30 days. By Walz’s count, Monday was the nonbinding 30-day deadline, though Senate Republicans count it as Wednesday.

The plans

The House Democratic plan would charge drug companies fees to cover the costs of 90-day emergency supplies for diabetics who can’t afford their insulin. The Senate Republican proposal would require drug companies to provide patients with free insulin via their doctor’s offices for up to a year, renewable, if their income is low enough.

Both proposals have high income limits. The Senate GOP plan would benefit patients who aren’t already on public insurance programs and whose family income is less than 400% of the federal poverty line. That means about $50,000 a year for individuals and about $100,000 for a family of four.

The House Democratic plan is pegged to 600% of the poverty line. It would benefit patients who don’t have insurance, have no drug coverage or have high-deductible plans. They’d get their emergency supplies from their local pharmacies.

House Democrats offered a compromise Friday that included some elements of the Senate GOP plan, but a deal remained elusive.

The divisions

Senate Republicans have balked at the Democrats’ yet-to-be determined fee on drug manufacturers, seeing it as a tax, even though their own plan would force insulin makers to absorb the costs of providing free insulin.

House Democrats have objected that the Senate GOP plan doesn’t specifically provide for emergency insulin supplies, even though it would expand the availability of free insulin to many of the same diabetics who would benefit from the Democrats’ plan.

Insulin activists have expressed support for both proposals. Without assigning blame, Walz said the two sides should be able to bridge their differences.

“The solution’s there, the compromise is there, the will to get it done is there, and all we need to do is push it over the line,” the governor said.

Before you go...

MPR News is dedicated to bringing you clarity in coverage from our reporters across the state, stories that connect us, and conversations that provide perspectives when we need it most. We rely on your help to do this. Your donation has the power to keep MPR News strong and accessible to all during this crisis and beyond.