ST. PAUL — Gov. Tim Walz on Tuesday, Oct. 1, called on state legislative leaders to form a committee to resolve differences between two proposals aimed at providing free insulin access to Minnesotans who can't afford it.
In a letter, the first-term governor asked House Speaker Melissa Hortman and Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka to form a panel that could work through the bills ahead of a possible special session.
Democrats and Republicans have put forth separate proposals aimed at providing insulin to uninsured people or those with insurance who can't afford the drug. House and Senate Health and Human Services committees last week weighed the proposals and lawmakers on both sides of the political aisle said a combination could likely help ensure those with diabetes get the drug they need, despite the price.
"I would encourage them to model what I think people are asking for, hold a true conference committee," Walz told reporters. "My commissioners and myself, we're ready to testify, show them what we can do and then work out a plan and then I'd love to call them back and get this done."
Democratic lawmakers have put forth a plan to allow Minnesotans with incomes up to 600% of the federal poverty guideline who don't have insurance or whose insurance policy carries a deductible of $5,000 or more to access a 30-day supply of insulin. Diabetics in crisis could fill out forms at a pharmacy to prove they are eligible for the program and show a pharmacist an insulin prescription or out-of-date prescription to receive the drug.
Republican senators also put out a proposal that would require insulin manufacturers to supply the drug to patients with diabetes who are not already on a public health program and that make less than 400% of the federal poverty line. That would come out to roughly a $50,000 cap for individuals or $100,000 for a family of four.
Under the GOP proposal, patients could fill out eligibility forms through the state's MNsure health insurance exchange website, which they could then submit to their doctors to obtain a 120-day refillable supply of insulin. They could be eligible through the program for one year before they would have to requalify.
Walz said lawmakers should be appointed to the committee and should begin meeting as soon as possible. And he urged Hortman and Gazelka to ensure that at least some of those meetings are open to the public and take into account perspective from Minnesotans with diabetes, doctors and others.
Hortman, a Brooklyn Park Democrat, told the governor that he should consider putting the issue to lawmakers, experts and the public so as to avoid complaints about deals being struck in secret. Hortman, Gazelka and Walz faced similar frustrations after they holed up for days to negotiate a state budget deal this spring.
"What I said was, 'We don't need Sen. Gazelka and you and me trying to come to an agreement. We need the people who are experts in this area and the public to be constructing the solution,'" Hortman told Forum News Service last week.
On Tuesday, Hortman wrote a letter back to Walz, saying she had members ready to join the group and would hope to strike a deal on or before Dec. 1.
But Gazelka appeared unlikely to budge on a compromise plan. In a news release, the Nisswa Republican noted that the Legislature can't appoint members to a conference committee when lawmakers are not in session.
“The Senate is ready to provide the same successful leadership for families struggling with diabetes," Gazelka said. "Our plan provides access to insulin for Minnesotans unable to afford the high cost of this life-saving medicine, without creating another state bureaucracy.”
The Senate Majority Leader touted Republican policy proposals that he said helped insurance companies keep health insurance rates in the individual- and group-markets relatively flat heading into 2020. And he applauded insurance companies that capped insulin costs for Minnesotans covered by their plans.