There is an insulin rationing crisis in the United States, driven by the high price of this life-saving medication. Research indicates that one-quarter of people with diabetes have to ration their insulin because of the cost, and rationing puts patients at greater risk of health complications, including death. In Minnesota, advocates responded to the deaths of Alec Raeshawn Smith and Jesimya David Scherer-Radcliff by fighting to pass the Alec Smith Insulin Affordability Act, which was the first in the nation to establish a program for patients with diabetes to purchase the insulin they need at an affordable price. After years of work, this bill was signed into law by Governor Tim Walz on April 15, 2020.
On June 30, the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America (PhRMA) filed a lawsuit against the state of Minnesota to overturn this critical bill. This lawsuit makes clear that PhRMA’s priority is protecting the profits of insulin manufacturers like Eli Lilly, Novo Nordisk, and Sanofi — not ensuring that patients with diabetes can get the medicine they need to survive at an affordable price.
This Amicus Brief was filed on November 5, 2020 by T1International, Minnesota #insulin4all, several Minnesota residents whose lives have been affected by the high price of insulin, the National Health Law Program (NHeLP), and Mid-Minnesota Legal Aid (MMLA). The brief highlights the difficulties that patients in Minnesota, and the United States more broadly, face in ensuring steady access to their medicine, and the critical need for the Alec Smith Insulin Affordability Act.
T1International and the Minnesota #insulin4all Chapter are led by and for patients with diabetes and their families to advocate for their right to health, including affordable access to insulin and diabetes supplies. Nicole Smith-Holt and Cindy Boyd are mothers who have each lost a son to insulin rationing. Nathan Loewy and Abigail Hansmeyer are Minnesota residents with diabetes who have struggled to afford the insulin they need. NHeLP works to protect and expand access to health care for low-income and underserved populations. MMLA has provided free legal services in civil matters to income-eligible Minnesotans in 20 counties across central Minnesota since 1913.
Elizabeth Pfiester, Executive Director of T1International:
“We have seen too many times how pharmaceutical companies put profits over the lives of patients. Families have suffered too much because their loved ones were forced to ration insulin. The fact that big pharma is so committed to taking away something that will save patients’ lives because it may result in a slight reduction in their billions in profits shows that we must continue to stand up and fight for our lives.”
Nicole Smith-Holt, Chapter Leader of Minnesota #insulin4all and mother of Alec Raeshawn Smith:
“As the parents of the late Alec Smith we understand personally how important having a safety net in place is for people with type 1 diabetes. We understand that in a blink of an eye, someone's life can end because they simply cannot afford insulin. We want to protect the Alec Smith Insulin Affordability Act so that no one else has to make the life or death decision that our son Alec had to make.”
Cindy Boyd, mother of Jesimya David Scherer-Radcliff:
“My son Jesy died because he did not have access to the insulin he needed to survive. There are thousands of others like him, thousands of Minnesotans who must make daily choices between food or other basic supplies and the insulin they need to live. Alec’s Bill ensures that people in Minnesota with diabetes have a way to get the insulin they need.”
Nathan Loewy, patient:
“As an injectable insulin dependent diabetic of over 3 decades, the high price of my insulin has forced me to make decisions such as rationing doses, going without food, and having utilities shut off to ensure I can afford my next vial. As the father to an injectable insulin dependent diabetic of nearly 4 years, I never want him to be forced to make these same choices. We should never have to worry if we will be able to afford the insulin we need to remain alive next week, next month, or next year. This law gives us protection no matter what, and is crucial to our survival in any potential emergency situation.”
Barnett Rosenfield, Supervising Attorney with MMLA and the Minnesota Disability Law Center:
"Minnesotans deserve access to quality and affordable health care. Legal Aid and the Minnesota Disability Law Center (MMLA/MDLC) supported the recent passage of the Alec Smith Insulin Affordability Act, which provides critical assistance to people with diabetes in Minnesota in meeting their medication needs. MMLA/MDLC is committed to protecting our clients' rights to access the health care they need to remain safe and healthy."
Wayne Turner, Senior Attorney at NHeLP:
“Price gouging by drug companies is literally a life-or-death issue. NHeLP is proud to support Minnesota’s legislation to make insulin accessible and affordable. State-level efforts to curb high drug costs provide a vital lifeline as federal drug pricing reform efforts remain stalled.”