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Minnesota Opinion: Spread the word: Insulin help is available in our state

From the editorial: "There’s fear that Minnesotans continue to flirt with death by attempting to make do or get by on their own — though they no longer need to."

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Jeff Koterba / Cagle Cartoons
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After aging off his parent’s health insurance, 26-year-old Alec Smith decided to use the money he’d need to spend for his own coverage to pay for the insulin keeping him alive.

But it proved too expensive, and he left the pharmacy without his prescription. Back at his apartment, he tried to ration what he had. Four day later, he was found dead by his girlfriend. He was three days from his next paycheck.

“In my heart I knew right away that I wanted to do something,” his mother, Nicole Smith-Holt, said in a video released last week by MNsure, Minnesota’s health-insurance marketplace. “How do we take his death and turn it into something more than just his death, you know? I didn’t want somebody in an emergency situation like Alec was in to be turned away from the pharmacy. Alec wasn’t an isolated situation. There’s a problem. Because somebody is going to pay it or they’re going to die. It’s very, very simple.”

Doing something took three tries at the Minnesota Legislature. But in 2020, with bipartisan support, the Alec Smith Insulin Affordability Bill passed and was signed into state law. It created the Minnesota Insulin Safety Net Program, which provides emergency (that is, for diabetics who have less than a seven-day supply of insulin and face likely significant health consequences without more) 30-day supplies of insulin once a year for a copay of no more than $35 and up to a 90-day supply for no more than $50 in copay for Minnesotans who need assistance longer term. The program is run by MNsure and the Minnesota Board of Pharmacy.

Minnesota diabetics should no longer feel like they have to ration their medicine the way Alec Smith tried unsuccessfully to do. No more should Minnesota diabetics die because they can’t afford their prescriptions.

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“This is life or death for somebody who needs it, and they should not be turned away at the pharmacy because of cost,” Smith-Holt further stated in the video. “So I really strongly encourage anybody who is dependent on insulin, you’ve had to advocate for yourself for everything basically, don’t stop advocating for yourself now.”

In the Minnesota Insulin Safety Net Program’s first full year, more than 1,100 Minnesotans took advantage, accessing more than $6 million worth of insulin, according to a report from the Minnesota Board of Pharmacy, released last week.

Concern persists, in spite of that overwhelming success, that countless more Minnesotans are eligible for the program but don’t know about it and are also taking dangerous risks like rationing. There’s fear that Minnesotans continue to flirt with death by attempting to make do or get by on their own — though they no longer need to.

So spread the word. There’s now help. It’s an easy click away at mninsulin.org or a single phone call away to the MNsure Assister Resource Center at 651-539-2098 or toll free at 833-541-7698. There’s no reason for Minnesota diabetics to die needlessly. Not anymore.

“(It) feels good to know that even though we lost Alec — and he should still be here today, you know — because of his death, he’s paved the way for thousands of other people to live their long, happy, healthy life,” said his mother.

DFL Rep. Michael Howard of Richfield, Minnesota, the lead author in the House of the Alec Smith Insulin Affordability Bill, is the author now, this session, of legislation to cap copayments on prescriptions for insulin and other life-saving medications like asthma inhalers and EpiPens.

“Alec’s law continues to save lives,” Howard said in an Associated Press report last week. “The increased number of Minnesotans utilizing this safety net underscores that our work isn’t finished.”

This Minnesota Opinion editorial is the opinion of the Duluth News Tribune editorial board.

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