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Big Pharma Trade Group Blasted as 'Morally Bankrupt' for Suing to Block Minnesota Insulin Affordability Law

The law is named for Alec Smith, an uninsured 26-year-old who died in 2017 after rationing his insulin.

James Holt and Nicole Smith-Holt held a picture of their son Alec—who died in 2017 at age 26 after rationing his insulin—at the Minnesota State Capitol in St. Paul after state representatives passed the Alec Smith Insulin Affordability Act on April 14, 2020. (Photo: John Autey/MediaNews Group/St. Paul Pioneer Press via Getty Images)

James Holt and Nicole Smith-Holt held a picture of their son Alec—who died in 2017 at age 26 after rationing his insulin—at the Minnesota State Capitol in St. Paul after state representatives passed the Alec Smith Insulin Affordability Act on April 14, 2020. (Photo: John Autey/MediaNews Group/St. Paul Pioneer Press via Getty Images)

A Big Pharma trade group is under fire for filing a federal lawsuit late Tuesday against Minnesota's Alec Smith Insulin Affordability Act mere hours before it took effect.

State Sen. Matt Little, a member of the Minnesota Democratic–Farmer–Labor Party (DFL), decried the move as "morally bankrupt" and "devoid of humanity." In a Tuesday night tweet, Little also vowed: "I will spend my entire life fighting these soulless companies. No one should get sick or die from an inability to afford life-sustaining insulin."

The law in question is named for an uninsured 26-year-old diabetic who died in 2017 of complications from rationing his insulin because he couldn't afford the medicine and related supplies after aging off his mother's health insurance. After state lawmakers overwhelmingly approved the measure, DFL Gov. Tim Walz signed it into law this April.

As MPR News explains:

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.

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

The suit was filed in the U.S. District Court for the District of Minnesota by Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America (PhRMA). The drug industry group claims the measure is unconstitutional, arguing in the complaint (pdf) that "a state cannot simply commandeer private property to achieve its public policy goals."

An PhRMA spokesperson told Brian Bakst of MPR News that "we are not seeking an emergency ruling to block the law from going into effect, but we think the law is unconstitutional and that the court should strike it down after it hears our challenge."

The advocacy group Public Citizen noted the tragic death of the law's namesake and denounced PhRMA's suit as "beyond unconscionable."

Nicole Smith-Holt, Alec Smith's mother, also took to Twitter to condemn PhRMA's lawsuit and accuse drug companies of violating human rights.

Smith-Holt was not the only outraged parent of a diabetic. Saint Paul-based healthcare advocate Lija Greenseid wrote in a series of tweets that she felt "so deflated" and "duped by lawmakers," calling out GOP state senators who she said "assured advocates that they had worked with the manufacturers to develop their plan."

GOP state Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka expressed disappointment with the suit in a written statement reported by MPR News. "Senate Republicans remain committed to providing emergency insulin for those in crisis no matter what happens with this poorly timed lawsuit," Gazelka said.

State Attorney General Keith Ellison (DFL) tweeted Wednesday morning in response to PhRMA's "attack" on the law that "we look forward to defending the people of Minnesota in court against this morally repugnant behavior."

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