ST. PAUL — Gov. Tim Walz on Monday, Nov. 18, re-issued a call to reach a compromise before Christmas that could set up a special session before New Year's Day. And he urged lawmakers to come out of closed-door meetings to hold the talks in public.
The call galvanized Democrats, who'd been pushing to get negotiations out into the public, and it irked Republicans, who noted that previous efforts to vet the plans in public had fallen short.
And emergency access advocates said they were fed up with the political nature of the debate, which seemed to have broken down behind closed doors.
"I don’t want to see this devolve into politics and fingerpointing like we did at the end of session," Lija Greenseid, an affordable insulin advocate and mother to a daughter with Type 1 diabetes, said. “People are really taking desperate measures and that’s something we can solve with the plans that are described here.”
Around 330,000 adults in Minnesota have been diagnosed with Type 1 or Type 2 diabetes, according to the state Department of Health. And reports of insulin rationing around the state have brought the debate to the forefront, especially in cases where Minnesotans died from complications of diabetes.
In response to those deaths, lawmakers have crafted two plans that would make available free insulin to people in need. Democrats want to charge a fee to the insulin manufacturers that would fund insulin supplies for low-income people without insurance or with high-deductible insurance plans. And Republicans say the state should require insulin manufacturers to supply insulin to needy patients with diabetes who are not already on a public health program to fend off the need for rationing.
Legislative leaders a month ago set a 30-day clock to find a middle ground that could satisfy both Democrats and Republicans and set up a special session. The self-imposed deadline was set to fall this week, and Walz said that should trigger a move from closed-door negotiations to public hearings.
“I think what’s missing in this is the public eye," Walz said. “Out in the open has a real therapeutic effect of softening some of the tough positions.”
The Democratic governor said the four private talks had helped the two sides' understanding of one another's proposals, but after an offer for a deal failed in a Friday meeting, he needed to take a different tack.
Democrats welcomed the move to open up the meetings, saying it could bring insulin advocates into the discussion and force compromise forward. Republicans, meanwhile, noted that previous public hearings hadn't been fruitful and asked to hold another private meeting to chart a path forward.
“The public hearings in the Senate and the House this interim did not result in an agreement. However, the working group is making good progress on key issues," Sen. Eric Pratt, R-Prior Lake, said in a news release. "We know this issue is urgent, so I am calling for a meeting this week."
Rep. Michael Howard, DFL-Richfield, said Democrats were waiting to hear from GOP lawmakers about a compromise proposal and would push for public hearings to bring in the voices of those with diabetes and advocates.
“This is a crisis, and we need to forge ahead urgently to reach a solution,” Howard told reporters. "This is about trying to move the ball forward and do it urgently."