You have probably heard some of the heart-wrenching stories of individuals struggling to afford their insulin prescriptions, which can cost thousands of dollars per month. No matter what party you belong to, I think we can all agree that is not acceptable.
You might be wondering what the legislature did this year and what still needs to be done.
First, some background. Your pancreas produces a hormone called insulin. It is what allows your body to process the sugar in carbohydrates for energy use or storage. Insulin also helps regulate your blood sugar levels, so they don’t get too high or too low.
Type 1 diabetics don’t produce insulin at all, while Type 2 diabetics are resistant to insulin or can’t use the insulin their body produces. Type 1 diabetics require an insulin injection to regulate their blood sugar levels. There are more treatment options for Type 2 diabetics, but many need insulin as well.
Bottom line: there are a lot of people who need insulin to stay alive. You probably even know somebody who does.
Insulin prices have skyrocketed since the implementation of the affordable Health Care Act. The urgency boiled over in Minnesota with the death of Alec Smith, a 26-year-old Type 1 diabetic. Alec couldn’t afford his $1,300 insulin bill, so he rationed his insulin. He died within a few weeks. It was a horrible, horrible tragedy, but hopefully something good will come from it.
This session we took action:
We required pharmacies to provide emergency access to insulin and other life saving drugs.
We prohibited health plans from making a profit on the sale of insulin.
We demanded better communication from health plans about the price of insulin prescriptions, including rebates and discounts that are available from drug manufacturers or pharmacy benefit managers.
In addition, we have received great news from most of the major insurers that they will be proactively lowering the price of insulin.
Blue Cross Blue Shield will eliminate copays for insulin.
Medica and UCare will cap out of pocket costs at $25/month.
Health Partners offers plans in all markets that cover insulin at a $25 copay and lower.
Thanks to Republicans’ successful reinsurance program, these insurers are absorbing the costs of price reductions, so premiums for other customers will not increase.
There is also a small band of activists supporting a bill named for Alec Smith. Their intentions are good, but their bill has a number of problems. It is complicated and unworkable, and will likely lead to lawsuits before it is even implemented. It also requires the program be managed by the Department of Human Services. Given that agency’s numerous issues with fraud, waste, and mismanagement, this is an especially bad idea. Let’s let DHS get its house in order before giving them any more responsibilities.
The Alec Smith bill is only one option, though. We all share the same goal: to make sure every diabetic has reliable and affordable access to insulin. We have a dedicated team working with experts every day to figure out a plan that will solve the insulin problem, and they are getting close to a solution.
If you have any questions or feedback, please don’t hesitate to contact me. My office is 651-296-1508 and my email is Sen.Jason.Rarick@senate.mn
Jason Rarick is the Minnesota State Senator for District 11 which includes most of Pine County as well as Kroschel, Pomroy, Knife Lake, Whited, Arthur, Comfort, Brunswick and Grass Lake townships in Kanabec County.