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Gov. Tim Walz on Thursday, Oct. 17, appeared with affordable insulin access advocates at the Capitol and asked that Senate Republicans enter conversations about merging plans to provide free insulin to diabetics in need. Dana Ferguson / Forum News Service

'This crisis is still upon us': Walz again makes appeal for compromise on affordable insulin plan

ST. PAUL — Gov. Tim Walz, flanked by affordable insulin advocates, again made a plea to Senate Republicans on Thursday, Oct. 17, to come to the table to negotiate a compromise proposal to provide free insulin to Minnesotans who can't afford it.

At a news conference, the governor urged lawmakers to come together to create a plan with bipartisan support that could pass through the divided Legislature during a special legislative session.

The renewed push came weeks after conversations about potential legislation stalled out in the Legislature and an hour after Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka, R-Nisswa, said on Twitter that he was ready to pass a GOP proposal to set up a program to get Minnesotans with diabetes free insulin through their doctor if they couldn't afford the drug.

For months, lawmakers have grappled over a solution to provide free emergency access to insulin for people who need it. Democrats and Republicans have each put forth a proposal but they've not been able to bridge the gaps between the two plans.

Democrats want to allow Minnesotans with incomes up to 600% of the federal poverty guideline who don't have insurance or whose insurance policy carries a deductible of $5,000 or more to access a 30-day supply of insulin. Diabetics in crisis could fill out forms at a pharmacy to prove they are eligible for the program and show a pharmacist an insulin prescription or out-of-date prescription to receive the drug.

Republicans, meanwhile, have proposed requiring insulin manufacturers to supply the drug to patients with diabetes who are not already on a public health program and that make less than 400% of the federal poverty line. That would come out to roughly a $50,000 cap for individuals or $100,000 for a family of four.

Under the GOP proposal, patients could fill out eligibility forms through the state's MNsure health insurance exchange website, which they could then submit to their doctors to obtain a 120-day refillable supply of insulin. They could be eligible through the program for one year before they would have to requalify.

Earlier this month, Walz called on legislative leaders to appoint members to a committee to negotiate a compromise bill. House leaders and the governor appointed representatives to the conference committee, but Gazelka said that was outside of the Legislature's authority when members weren't in legislative session.

Walz called on Republicans to come to the table to talk through a compromise and also faulted Senate leaders for lacking the "political will" to meet sooner to merge the two bills.

“There’s one bottleneck and one reason that we’re not compromising and working out the differences and that’s the intransigence of Senate Republicans and unwillingness to talk about it,” Walz said. "Those who may feel like they'll be able to run the clock out or those who may seem to think that people will forget about this are sadly mistaken. This crisis is still upon us. The uncertainty has gone on too long and insulin is not optional.”

Leaders in the Democrat-controlled House of Representatives echoed Walz's concerns and encouraged Senate Republicans to meet with them.

“Minnesotans need and deserve access to emergency insulin — which the Senate bill doesn’t provide,” House Speaker Melissa Hortman, D-Brooklyn Park, said in a news release. “We continue to wait for Senator Gazelka to name which senators will speak for the Senate in a workgroup so we can commence negotiations on a compromise. Simply reiterating that he has taken a position different from ours doesn't help anyone get emergency access to insulin.”

Gazelka on Twitter said he was ready to bring the Republican proposal to a vote if the governor called lawmakers into a special session, but didn't mention Democrats' plan or a compromise proposal. And bill authors for both proposals on Twitter expressed their interest in meeting to talk about a path forward.

It wasn't immediately clear on Thursday morning whether a meeting would take place and if it had the support of Senate leadership.