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Rep. Ilhan Omar likens access to medicine in US to that in her native Somalia

Emily Kopp, CQ-Roll Call on

Published in Health & Fitness

WASHINGTON -- Minnesota Rep. Ilhan Omar shared that her aunt died of "diabetic shock" in Somalia when she was 21 years old because she did not have access to medication, and said the fact that this sort of tragedy can happen in a country as wealthy as the United States is a "mark of shame."

"There are people in the developing world who are dying because they don't have access to health care or they don't have access to medicine. My aunt was one of those people," said Omar, whose family resettled in Minnesota as refugees after fleeing the civil war in their native Somalia.

Omar's aunt died within days of her diagnosis.

"It is a mark of shame that in the wealthiest country in the world people are dying because they can't afford lifesaving medicine," the 5th District Democrat added in a statement.

Omar was among the House and Senate Democrats at a news conference Thursday to introduce a new suite of bills to curb drug costs.

The three-part plan, championed by Vermont independent Sen. Bernie Sanders, would allow the government to negotiate prices with manufacturers under the Medicare Part D drug program, set drug prices based on the median price of five other wealthy countries and authorize importing drugs from Canada.

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Omar likened her aunt's story to the death of a Twin Cities resident.

Alec Raeshawn Smith died of diabetic ketoacidosis when he was 26 years old, just months after aging out of his mother's insurance plan. His mother, Nicole Smith-Holt, found receipts for insulin and blood sugar testing supplies in his car totaling $1,300 per month, and concluded her son had been rationing his insulin supply until his next paycheck.

Smith's name has become a rallying cry for health care advocates pushing the pharmaceutical industry and lawmakers to lower the cost of essential medicines.

"Last year in Minnesota when I heard about Alec, who was 26 and died because he could not access insulin to save his life, it did not make any sense to me," Omar said.

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