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Insulin debate in Minnesota: It’s about fairness — and prevention

The site might offer tips for Minnesota patients who might want to drive into Canada to purchase drugs and insulin.
REUTERS/Carlos Osorio
From day one, the sole intent of Minnesota diabetics and their parents and caregivers to create an emergency insulin access fund is to save lives and protect the health of the state’s insulin-dependent diabetics. That intent is grounded in the fact that an exorbitant increase in the price of insulin over the last decade is literally killing diabetics in Minnesota, especially those who have no insurance and are not protected by any of the existing social safety nets, while forcing others to dangerously ration their insulin.

Kim Munson
Kim Munson
For that reason, it was surprising to read State Sen. Eric Pratt’s quote in your Feb. 5 story that the lack of a legislative deal to create an emergency access fund was due to insulin advocates’ and others’ “desire to punish the manufacturers” by requiring them to pay a fee to help establish the fund. Nothing could be further from the truth.

There is a significant difference between punishing someone or something and simply asking them to do what’s right and pay their fair share. There was bipartisan support in the Minnesota legislature to assess a fee on opioid manufacturers for the costs Minnesotans and Minnesota incurred for that industry’s actions. Asking insulin manufacturers to pay a small tax to help offset the damage they are causing to the lives and health of Minnesotans due to their exorbitant price increases should also result in bipartisan support.

Are diabetics and their family members happy with the price increases by the three insulin manufacturers? Absolutely not. Do we think it’s OK to triple the price of insulin over the last decade simply because they have the monopolistic power to do so? No we do not. Are we angry that some Minnesotans have died due to the high cost of insulin? Of course we are — any human being should be.


But those facts, while contributing to the insulin crisis in Minnesota, are not what’s truly central to this debate. It’s about fairness when it comes to the treatment of Minnesotans. It’s about preventing other people from suffering and dying in the future.

Is it fair to give the companies that have created this crisis a pass on being part of the solution in creating an emergency insulin access fund, instead asking the state’s economically disadvantaged to do so by taking the money for the creation of the fund solely out of the Minnesota Health Care Access Fund? Is it fair to put the interests of out-of-state insulin manufacturers over those of vulnerable Minnesotans?

Nicole Smith-Holt
Nicole Smith-Holt
With all due respect to Sen. Pratt, what’s really at play here is the power of the insulin lobby and its dollars. Insulin manufacturers and pharma currently employ a staggering number of lobbyists in Minnesota (19 at last count) including the former political aide to one of the Republican legislators who participated in the unsuccessful negotiations to create the emergency insulin fund.

The reason negotiations to create an emergency insulin access fund fell apart is the same reason that the language creating the fund “disappeared” due to an “editing error” at the end of the last legislative session. It’s the power and influence of the pharmaceutical industry.

It’s time for the Minnesota Senate to join with the House of Representatives and the governor and create an emergency access fund to help save the lives and protect the health of Minnesota’s insulin-dependent diabetics. Asking insulin manufacturers to pay a nearly microscopic percentage of their profits to help pay for that fund is not only reasonable, it’s fair.

Kim Munson is a mother to an 8-year-old with type one diabetes. When she realized how quickly the price of insulin increases without reason, she knew she needed to join the fight to ensure no more people with diabetes are priced out of their life support. Nicole Smith-Holt is the mother of the late Alec Smith, who died in June 2017 from rationing his insulin. Since Alec’s death Nicole has been an advocate at the state and federal level for affordable and accessible insulin4all. Nicole is the charity ambassador for T1International. The following members of the MN#insulin4all Leadership Team also contributed to this commentary: Rob Kilbourn, Shari Wiltrout, Abigail Hansmeyer, Nathan  Loewy, and Alexis Stanley.

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Comments (13)

  1. Submitted by Gerald Abrahamson on 02/24/2020 - 09:43 am.

    Insulin is not the only drug with this problem. So have a statewide program that covers ALL such drugs (including insulin). Then a tax/fee on the drug companies covers the costs of running the program for whoever needs it.

  2. Submitted by joe smith on 02/24/2020 - 10:42 am.

    For most type 2 diabetes proper nutrition and exercise will eliminate the need for insulin. Education on living a lifestyle that helps avoids the use of insulin is just as important as lowering the price of insulin. Problem with that is, no money for big pharma with folks freeing themselves from sugar and bad carbs.

    • Submitted by Pat Terry on 02/24/2020 - 12:13 pm.

      I’m sure Ms. Munson’s 8-year old will find your nutritional advice very helpful.

      • Submitted by joe smith on 02/24/2020 - 12:53 pm.

        Pat,
        Type one diabetes is different than type 2. You are born with type one, type 2 is acquired. Her son needs insulin with type one and I feel terrible for them. Keeping folks from getting type 2 is important too.

        • Submitted by Pat Terry on 02/24/2020 - 01:41 pm.

          I know the difference between Type 1 and Type 2 diabetes. I was mocking your comment because it isn’t relevant to this 8-year old kid, nor was relevant to Ms. Holt-Smith’s son who died because he could not afford insulin. Its great that you feel bad for them, but are you willing to change the law to help? Or do all those pizza and donut eaters just get what they deserve.

          • Submitted by joe smith on 02/24/2020 - 03:01 pm.

            Helping folks understand the difference between type 1 and 2 is always relevant. Too many do not know.

          • Submitted by Bob Barnes on 02/24/2020 - 04:06 pm.

            His post is relevant because you have a LOT of type 2 diabetics taking up insulin that they don’t actually need. Get them off the carbs and they will stop using all that insulin which will increase the supply for Type 1 people who actually need it.

            • Submitted by Matt Haas on 02/24/2020 - 05:20 pm.

              So in other words YES, you’d prefer to punish those with type 2 diabetes as opposed to using good policy to help those with type 1.

        • Submitted by Matt Haas on 02/24/2020 - 05:22 pm.

          Not terrible enough to actually support anything that might cause you personal discomfort to help solve their problem of course, but hey, you can only expect SO much from a conservative.

  3. Submitted by Tom Anderson on 02/24/2020 - 05:29 pm.

    As providing insulin is such a lucrative business, what keeps the average person from producing and selling it themselves? It seems hard to believe that there are not people interested in making vast sums of money and insulin has been around a very long time. Think craft brewing, only for the common good.

  4. Submitted by Jerilyn Jackson on 02/24/2020 - 08:10 pm.

    It’s good to know where to go for medical advice.

  5. Submitted by Dennis Wagner on 02/25/2020 - 10:43 am.

    Just an off handed comment: Some folks were saying that certain Type Diabetes folks should just lay off the carbs. Fair enough. So does that also mean we should have smokers lay off the butts rather than treat them? Could we say the same for folks with heart and cholesterol issues, lay off the cheese, meat and dairy, forget the stints and by-pass surgery? Should we treat alcoholism, drug addiction, or just tell those folks to lay off as well? Things sure do get strange when you start going down the rabbit hole.

  6. Submitted by Diggitt McLaughlin on 02/25/2020 - 09:12 pm.

    I have had two sweethearts with Type 1 (childhood-onset) diabetes, in my life. John, back in college, was a brilliant guy with a splendid future–had he lived. He didn’t drink alcohol or eat bakery-type sweets (really skinny) and oh yes, died when he was six months past his 30th. Of complications of diabetes.

    Clem, my other sweetheart, is about 70 now. He learned he was diabetic (like his father and grandfather) in his teens. All his life he has been scrupulously clean (god forbid that he should have stinky feet, which leads to infection). He was a small businessman who got put out of business by Walmart, never had union benefits, and never could afford insurance.

    He never drank alcohol or ate dessert, but has the misfortune to have “brittle diabetes”–which is a horror show. I would wake up because of weird snoring and find him beside me in a coma. I would walk into his office to find him unconscious beside his desk. He passed out behind the wheel of his car and woke up in the E.R. with one ear torn off and lost his drivers license for several months. Having his diabetes turn brittle has left him unable to work. You can imagine how this affe cts his being able to afford his medication!

    Beats me where diabetics got such a bad reputation. Too many dumb people who love to hate others, I guess! Easier to hate Type 1 diabetics than bother to understand that they are behind a huge eight-ball all their lives. From the time they are out of their teens they face amputations, blindness, other other mutilations from things that our healthy bodies wouldn’t even register. They truly need whatever help the voters can bring them.

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