Minnesota lawmakers blast pharmaceutical industry lawsuit over insulin affordability law

Getty Images

Minnesota lawmakers blasted the pharmaceutical industry’s largest lobbying group for suing the state in an effort to block a new law that mandates drugmakers provide heavily discounted insulin supplies to diabetics who need them.

The Alec Smith Insulin Affordability Act is meant to prevent people from forgoing insulin because they can’t afford it. 

It is named for Alec Smith, a 26-year-old man who died in 2017 because he couldn’t afford to pay $1,300 for an insulin refill and had no health insurance after he aged off of his mother’s plan. Smith was rationing his insulin at the time of his death.

But the lobbying group PhRMA filed a lawsuit late Tuesday, just before the law was set to take effect, arguing it is unconstitutional and asking the court for a permanent injunction. 

“They did something I didn’t think was possible — they’re more hated than COVID-19,” Gov. Tim Walz (D) said during a Wednesday press conference with advocates and members of Smith’s family. “How do you do this? How do you decide to be so awful on the day before this?”

PhRMA acknowledged public concern about the high cost of insulin, but said the state violated the takings clause of the Constitution by unlawfully commandeering private property without “just compensation.”

“A state cannot simply commandeer private property to achieve its public policy goals,” PhRMA wrote in the complaint, filed Tuesday in district court. 

“Minnesota could have taken various lawful steps to address this concern. What Minnesota chose to do, however, is to order pharmaceutical manufacturers to give insulin to state residents, on the state’s prescribed terms, at no charge to the recipients and without compensating the manufacturers in any way,” the lawsuit stated.

The law, which took effect Wednesday, allows eligible Minnesotans with an “urgent need” to receive an annual, 30-day supply of insulin immediately at their pharmacy for no more than $35. 

According to the law, an urgent need means that a person has less than a 7-day supply of insulin and will likely have significant health consequences if they run out.

The law also provides eligible Minnesotans up to a year supply of insulin for no more than $50 per 90-day refill.

Manufacturers must supply the drug for free, or reimburse the pharmacies. Companies face steep fines if they don’t comply.

Since PhRMA did not ask for a temporary injunction, the law remains on the books and is currently in effect for people who need it.

Insulin was first discovered about 100 years ago, and as newer forms of the drug have been introduced, the price has climbed.

Three companies — Eli Lilly, Sanofi and Novo Nordisk — control 99 percent of the world’s insulin, and advocates have been asking them to explain their pricing. According to the American Diabetes Association, the average price of insulin nearly tripled between 2002 and 2013. 

Walz said the lawsuit essentially blindsided him, and when he learned about it, his reaction was “what the hell!”

Walz said the most frustrating part was that lawmakers sat down with industry representatives and compromised on the legislation to make it more palatable.

“We were assured, if we did that, that they would not bring this to court and this would be a way to find common ground,” Walz said. 

Attorney General Keith Ellison (D) vowed that his office will defend the law with “every resource we have.” 

“I’m defending it on behalf of all Minnesotans who believe that no one should die because they can’t afford their insulin,” Ellison said in a statement. ”I’m defending it on behalf of all Minnesotans who believe people’s lives are more important than drug companies’ profits.”

Tags drug pricing Insulin Keith Ellison Tim Walz
See all Hill.TV See all Video