Lawmakers, activists celebrate first day of Alec Smith Insulin Affordability Act, criticize PhRMA lawsuit

Walz: "...they did something I didn’t think was possible: they’re more hated than COVID-19"

Sloane Martin
July 01, 2020 - 6:20 pm

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Mixed emotions from advocates and lawmakers alike as a pharmaceutical group sues Minnesota hours before a law for emergency insulin access goes into effect.

Days removed from the third anniversary of Alec Smith’s death from complications from rationing insulin, they hope that with his eponymous emergency insulin bill, no other Minnesotan will. Those in dire need of an insulin supply can go to, or work through MNSure or their local pharmacy for access.

“It’s very simple: if you live in Minnesota, have an urgent need for insulin, don’t have any more than a week’s worth of insulin at home, you don’t have access to insulin prescriptions for $75 or less per month, and you present a valid Minnesota ID card, you will walk out of that pharmacy with 30 days of insulin,” Republican Senator and doctor Scott Jensen said on The Chad Hartman Show on News Talk 830 WCO. “The manufacturer has the obligation to reimburse the dollars the pharmacy is out or resupply their inventory.”

But after tears of excitement and relief at the law’s passage in April, just hours before it went into effect Wednesday, July 1, the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America, or PhRMA, filed a lawsuit against the law which allows diabetics to get an emergency supply for no  more than $35, calling it unconstitutional.

The bipartisan law made efforts to avoid litigation and lawmakers said they worked with pharmaceutical manufacturers. Both sides of the aisle from Republican senators Jensen and Paul Gazelka to Attorney General Keith Ellison and Governor Walz excoriated the lawsuit.

Sen. Michelle Benson, chair of the Senate Health and Human Services Committee, said in a statement she was “disappointed” by the lawsuit that “is missing the mark by wasting time and money.”

“Throughout the process of developing this program, Senate Republicans raised concerns about litigation risk to the House authors. We made every effort to reduce that risk while accomplishing the goal of insulin affordability. Senator Pratt carried a proposal that met these goals,” the statement read. “Minnesotans would be far better off if the pharmaceutical industry would focus on fairness in pricing. You shouldn’t have to be a powerful government or a special interest group to have access to fair prices. All Minnesotans want to be treated fairly.”

Ellison said in a statement “Big Pharma is telling Minnesotans that their obscene profits come before your lives.”

“I gotta be honest they did something I didn’t think was possible: they’re more hated than COVID-19,” Walz said. “How do you do this? How do you decide to be so awful on the day before this? They knew what today was, they would have anticipated that we were going to bring the (Smith-Holt)  family here and talk about this. My hope was in my remarks to talk about the willingness of PhRMA to may help - that there’s more they can do, but we appreciate that they were trying to help. But oh no, for one minute a shred of humanity might have been running through things.”

Jensen said there is a valid argument that manufacturers have patience assistance plans in place, but they’re lacking in emergency, life-threatening situations.

“I understand that they have the right to do what they can do and they’ve done it,” he said. “But to do it within a few hours of when the clock turns over to July 1st, just seems sort of skanky.”

Rep. Mike Howard accused Big Pharma of purposely creating confusion, so to be clear: even with the lawsuit, the Alec Smith Insulin Affordability Act is the law of the land.

“This is an industry that raised (insulin) prices 1,200 percent,” Howard said. “This is an industry that’s fought in Washington DC to prevent biosimilars from coming to market at a lower price. This is an industry that pulled out of the R&D of insulin because they know this is a cash cow for them. This is an industry that profited $20 billion last year.”

Concordia St. Paul student, 21-year-old Alexis Stanley, was not surprised to see her recent bill for a 30-day supply of insulin was $659. Diagnosed in 2018, she’s seen the same life-sustaining product go from $250 a vial to $330. 

“I see myself in Alec every single time I talk to (his parents) Nicole (Smith-Holt) and James (Holt),” Stanley said.  “I’m not far from where he was when he was rationing insulin because he couldn’t afford it. This fight is not over and today we're going to celebrate the implementation of Alec’s bill and nothing is going to take that away from us.”

Gov. Walz says the law is still in effect and that’s reason to celebrate. He declared July 1, 2020 Alec Smith Day in Minnesota. 

“The news from Big Pharma late last night will not dull this victory,”  Lt. Gov. Peggy Flanagan said. “They may continue fighting, but so will we. and we have the advantage of being right.”

Activists undaunted by Big Pharma say their next focus is a cap on insulin prices

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