Insulin

A patient holds a vial of insulin during a news conference Sunday, July 28, 2019, in Windsor, Ont. (AP Photo/Carlos Osorio)

Minnesota’s new insulin affordability law takes effect Wednesday, just as it comes under legal fire from drug manufacturers seeking to strike it down.

A lawsuit filed in federal court late Tuesday seeks to declare the measure unconstitutional and prevent Minnesota officials from enforcing it. The move could entangle the law in the courts for months or years.

A clearly frustrated Gov. Tim Walz blasted the pharmaceutical industry for filing suit the night before the law takes effect. During a news conference celebrating the law’s first day, he and other advocates said they were told repeatedly that the industry would not sue over the compromise legislation that eventually became law.

“They did something I didn’t think was possible,” he said of the industry. “They’re more hated than COVID-19.”

Republicans, including state Sen. John Jasinski concurred.

“A lot of people spent a lot of time and energy to get this compromise done, for one reason: we all wanted to help people afford their insulin so they can simply stay alive,” said Jasinksi, R-Faribault. “It’s incredibly disappointing that PhRMA would swoop in on the day the bill was to take effect, two and a half months after it passed, to attempt to permanently block that good, important work.”

Under the law, people with diabetes who can’t afford the essential medicine will be able to get 30-day supplies with no more than a $35 copay. A separate income-based program is established for those with needs that extend beyond that.

Despite the lawsuit, officials stressed the law is in force.

Drug makers are required to participate. If they don’t, they would face a series of escalating fines.

The law — the Alec Smith Insulin Affordability Act — is named for a Richfield man who died in 2017 after rationing insulin to stretch out his supply when he couldn’t afford to buy new medicine.

Minnesota lawmakers overwhelmingly approved the measure earlier this year. Gov. Tim Walz signed it into law in April. A website and application process was established for the law’s highly anticipated launch.

Lawyers for the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America, however, argue that requiring the drug makers to turn over insulin at little or no cost or face fines is draconian and a violation of the Fifth Amendment and Fourteenth Amendment.

“A state cannot simply commandeer private property to achieve its public policy goals,” the lawsuit says.

Industry lawyers point out that the three dominant insulin makers — Eli Lilly, Novo Nordisk and Sanofi — already make emergency insulin available for free or at reduced cost.

As the legislation moved through the process, there was a lot of talk it could be ripe for a lawsuit. This bill took several years to get across the finish line.

Earlier versions would have imposed hefty fees up front to set up and pay for the program, which insulin makers didn’t like. The compromise was to look toward fines for noncompliance.

Some Republican backers in the Senate said they had been working with drug makers and thought they had found a sweet spot that would head off court fights.

Minnesota political leaders vowed to fight the lawsuit.

“We look forward to defending the people of Minnesota in court against this morally repugnant behavior,” Minnesota DFL Attorney General Keith Ellison wrote on Twitter.

Sen. Matt Little, DFL-Lakeville, called the pharmaceutical industry’s action “morally bankrupt” and “devoid of humanity.”

Rep. Mike Howard, DFL-Richfield and the law’s sponsor, said he was ready for a fight against what he described as “unbridled greed.”

Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka, R-East Gull Lake, said he was disappointed in the legal challenge.

“Senate Republicans remain committed to providing emergency insulin for those in crisis no matter what happens with this poorly timed lawsuit,” he said in written statement.

Sen. Jim Abeler, R-Anoka, said he thought lawmakers had arrived at a workable deal.

“I don’t know what is next. But nobody should die in Minnesota for lack of insulin,” Abeler tweeted Wednesday.

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