By Reg Chapman

ST. PAUL, Minn. (WCCO) – Gov. Tim Walz says lack of affordability for life-saving drugs is costing lives and something needs to be done.

Gov. Walz hosted a roundtable discussion Wednesday and listened to advocates and health care professionals talk about the need for legislation to make sure people who need insulin can afford it.

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The 2019 legislative session ended without lawmakers taking action on the high price of insulin.

“Insulin is our life support. It’s not an optional medication. It’s like oxygen – we absolutely need it,” Quinn Nystrom said.

A group of insulin advocates and health professionals met with Gov. Walz to tell their stories and come up with a plan to make insulin more accessible and affordable.

“Right after this meeting, I’m meeting this man, a St. Paul resident, who can’t afford his insulin,” Nicole Holt Smith said.

Smith’s son, Alex, died because he couldn’t afford his insulin and began rationing what he had.

These advocates say insulin has increased 1,200% percent in the United States in the past 20 years. A vial of insulin back then cost between $16 and $20.

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“It has not changed at all in its formulary. Today, this same insulin costs $340 up to $400 depending on what pharmacy you go to,” Nystrom said.

Nystrom and other advocates were optimistic when the house passed the Alex Smith Emergency bill with great bi-partisan support. The Senate did not hear the bill and the session ended without action.

“Minnesotans are going to die because that bill was not passed,” Nystrom said.

Gov. Walz says he believes the fix begins with legislative leadership, working to remove the obstacles that keep the Alex Smith Emergency Bill from getting to his desk to be signed.

“We have stated very clearly that we will not call a special session until there is an agreement ready to go and be brought back together. If they are very close, we can bring them back together for a short amount of time – move this piece of legislation,” Walz said.

The Governor also believes pharmaceutical companies need to be part of the discussion going forward to help make insulin affordable.

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Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka says they are going to keep working on the insulin issue to make sure they have a solution that fits the problem. He said the proposed ideas need to be hammered out to earn the support of legislators, patients, advocates and doctors.

Reg Chapman