Lawmakers and Pharmaceutical Companies Clash Over Insulin Affordability Act

    The Alec Smith Insulin Affordability Act is a Minnesota law created to protect those who need insulin to survive but may not be able to afford it. The act is named after Alec Smith, a 27-year-old man who died in 2017 after not being able to afford his insulin refill when he was removed from his mother’s health plan. 

    Minnesota’s Insulin Affordability Act passed earlier this year and will allow those in urgent need to receive a 30-day supply of insulin immediately for no more than $35. The law defines an “urgent need” as having less than a week’s supply of insulin for someone whose health will suffer significantly if left without insulin. The law will also enable eligible parties to get a supply of insulin for up to a year for no more than $50 for each 90-day refill.

    However, not everyone is happy about the law—in fact, one lobbyist group called it “unconstitutional.”

    Insulin (In)Affordability

    This law comes as one more in a string of states putting regulations on the price of insulin, which doubled between 2012 and 2016. One vial of insulin can now cost $250, and some patients use six vials each month, leading to exorbitant, sometimes life-ruining expenses for a drug literally needed for people to stay alive.

    Colorado, Illinois, Maine, New Mexico, New York, Utah, Washington, and West Virginia have already placed price caps ranging from $25 to $200 for a 30-day supply of insulin, and more states are in the process of following suit.

    Why Is Minnesota Different? 

    Minnesota’s Insulin Affordability Act was greeted differently than similar laws in other states. Just before the law came into effect, the lobbying group PhRMA filed a lawsuit in an attempt to block the act, claiming it was unconstitutional. 

    The group complained that the act would allow the state to unlawfully commandeer private property without just compensation. 

    The law went into effect despite the opposition, although the lawsuit is still being resolved.

    The Reaction to the Suit

    The public reaction to PhRMA’s lawsuit has been, as expected, overwhelmingly negative. Nicole Smith-Holt, the mother of Alec Smith, the Minnesota act’s namesake, voiced her disdain of the lobby group’s actions on Twitter. Her tweets condemned PhRMA and claimed that the group’s response was unconstitutional and violated human rights. Other critics took to social media, also condemning the dark side of capitalism and consumerism. 

    Minnesota Governor Tim Walz was also shocked by the move. According to Walz, lawmakers had involved representatives from the industry in discussing the act before moving forward with it in order to find a solution that they would also agree to, with the assurance that they would not bring the issue to court.

    Attorney General Keith Ellison has shared his commitment to defending the Alec Smith Insulin Affordability Act. In a statement, Ellison said, “I’m defending it on behalf of all Minnesotans who believe that no one should die because they can’t afford their insulin. I’m defending it on behalf of all Minnesotans who believe people’s lives are more important than drug companies’ profits.”

    When pharmaceutical companies put their own profits above consumers’ health and safety, pharmaceutical litigation attorneys can represent the public to fight for justice. But it’s usually the public that’s suing manufacturers, not the other way around. However, with the widespread public support for the law and indignation with the corporations fighting against it, it’s unlikely that the suit against the law will stand.