Minnesota lawmakers discuss reining in soaring insulin costs

ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) — Minnesota lawmakers are considering steps they could take to rein in the soaring cost of insulin, which one couple says has become so expensive that their diabetic son could no longer afford it and died.

State Sen. Matt Little convened an informal discussion at the state Capitol on Tuesday to gather information ahead of the legislative session that begins next month. The Lakeville Democrat said the cost of insulin is "immorally high" and that there appears to be no rational reason for the cost increases. He said he has drafted several bills aimed at controlling insulin costs, including one that would cap prices in the state.

James Holt Jr. and Nicole Smith-Holt, of Richfield, told lawmakers how their 26-year-old son, Alec Smith, died last year because he couldn't afford his monthly diabetes supplies after he became too old to remain on their health insurance plan.

"I can imagine how scary it was for Alec to walk out of that pharmacy without his life-saving insulin," his mother said. "He left that day because he did not have the $1,300 that the pharmacist was charging him for insulin supplies."

An Associated Press investigation published in September found that despite President Donald Trump's campaign promise to reduce drug costs, price increases are far more common than price cuts. Over the first seven months of the year, there were 96 price hikes for every price cut, the AP found. The AP also asked 24 large drug companies this summer if they planned to cut drug prices. None said they did, though some didn't answer.

Minnesota isn't the only state where patients are calling for affordable insulin. The Right Care Alliance of patients and health care worker staged Mother's Day weekend rallies across the country against what they called "insulin profiteering" in May, including one in Cambridge, Massachusetts , that included a march to the offices of insulin-makers Sanofi and Eli Lilly and one at the Minnesota Capitol , where Smith's parents spoke.

Minnesota Attorney General Lori Swanson is suing three big insulin makers, alleging that they inflated prices through deceptive trade practices and consumer fraud.

PhRMA, the industry trade group, said consumers are paying higher prices because insurers and pharmacy benefit managers aren't passing along discounts and rebates.

"We believe tasking the government with setting prices isn't the right solution and would be harmful to innovation and patients' access," PhRMA spokesman Nick McGee said. "Instead, insurers should share more of the discounts they receive directly with patients."