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Walz calls for special session to address rising insulin costs

Nicole Smith-Holt talks with Governor Tim Walz during a roundtable discussion about insulin affordability at the state Capitol in St. Paul on Wednesday. Her son Alec Smith, 26, died last year of diabetic ketoacidosis when he was trying to ration his insulin until his next paycheck. A bill that would make an emergency supply of insulin available to those who cannot afford it is named for Smith. Jean Pieri / St. Paul Pioneer Press1 / 2
At a roundtable discussion about insulin affordability at the state Capitol in St. Paul on Wednesday, Lija Greenseid, left, of St. Paul gives Governor Tim Walz an empty insulin vial that her 13-year-old daughter, who has Type 1 diabetes, painted gold. “The idea is that insulin is worth its weight in gold to people who need it to stay alive, but it shouldn’t cost as much as gold,” Greenseid said. At lower right is Lieutenant Governor Peggy Flanagan. Jean Pieri / St. Paul Pioneer Press2 / 2

Minnesota Governor Tim Walz wants state lawmakers to return to the Capitol and work out a deal that would give diabetics access to an emergency supply of insulin if they cannot afford it.

The rising cost of insulin became a major sticking point in this year’s legislative session, yet proposals to create an emergency supply of the lifesaving drug did not make it into the final budget bills. Democrats in the House and Republicans in the Senate traded blame for the proposal falling through in final negotiations.

Walz and Lieutenant Governor Peggy Flanagan met with a group of diabetics and health care professionals during a roundtable at the state Capitol on Wednesday in hopes of drawing fresh attention to the issue and setting the stage for a potential special session.

“The problem is getting worse daily and we have the capacity to deal with it,” Walz said. “Get this to my desk and I will sign it into law.”

In statements Wednesday, Democratic House Speaker Melissa Hortman and Republican Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka weighed in on the notion of another special session.

“The House stands ready to take meaningful action on insulin affordability and hold the pharmaceutical industry accountable,” Hortman said.

Gazelka downplayed talk of a special session last week, arguing that “we agreed to compromise and everyone has something they didn’t get.” He said in his statement that lawmakers will continue to work on solutions, but insulin access should not be used as a “divisive political tool.”

Walz told reporters that he considered executive action on the issue but concluded he does not have enough authority to enact an appropriate fix. Minnesota governors do have the power to call a special session but are often reluctant without an end date and agenda agreed to beforehand.

He wants lawmakers to finish their work on the “Alec Smith Emergency Insulin Act,” which was included in the House and Senate health and human services bills. The versions were slightly different and lawmakers did not agree on a compromise to include in their final bills.

“The work is done, it just needs to be passed,” said Nicole Smith-Holt, whose son Alec was the impetus behind the emergency refill bill.

Alec Smith was 26 years old when he died last year of diabetic ketoacidosis, a serious condition that can be prevented with insulin. He was trying to ration his insulin until his next paycheck.

Smith-Holt and her husband, James Holt Jr., were among the advocates who met with Walz on Wednesday.

During the roundtable discussion, diabetics talked about their struggles to afford insulin and the “daunting” task of standing up to powerful drug makers. And they stressed that there is an immediate need for an emergency refill option.

“If this bill is not passed in mere weeks or months, people are going to die in the state of Minnesota,” said Quinn Nystrom, a Type 1 diabetic from Baxter. When she was diagnosed in 1999, a vial of insulin cost her $20. Now, she said, the same vial costs nearly $400.

St. Paul resident Lija Greenseid thanked Walz for his support by giving him an empty insulin vial that her 13-year-old daughter, who has Type 1 diabetes, painted gold.

“The idea is that insulin is worth its weight in gold to people who need it to stay alive, but it shouldn’t cost as much as gold,” Greenseid said.

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