People living with diabetes don’t have the luxury of naturally supplied insulin the way most people do. Instead, these individuals must continually monitor blood sugar levels and manually administer life-sustaining medication — essentially working as their own pancreas.
MNsure, the state’s health insurance marketplace, selected our agency to tell a tragic and meaningful story aimed to raise awareness about life-saving resources for people living with diabetes. Through our work, we interviewed Nicole Smith-Holt, an activist and the mother of Alec Smith, a 26-year-old man who had been living with Type 1 diabetes and passed away because he couldn’t afford access to insulin.
After relying on pharmaceutical insulin for several years, he aged out of his mother’s insurance plan in 2017. Suddenly faced with a $1,300 out-of-pocket cost for insulin he couldn’t afford, Alec left the pharmacy empty handed and began rationing his supply. Alec passed away from ketoacidosis just four days later — a tragedy that shed light on a desperate need for accessible insulin, sparking action to prevent future deaths.
With his death, Nicole became a voice for action, urging a change in Minnesota law. Her work led to “Alec’s Law,” a landmark bill ensuring that insulin is finally affordable for all, and to the Minnesota Insulin Safety Net Program, which serves as central resource. Today, someone in an emergency situation like Alec’s can use the urgent need program, which provides a 30-day supply of insulin for $35 or less. A continuing need program is also available on an annual basis, with a $50 co-pay for a 90-day-supply of insulin.
We used authentic storytelling to create a video, strategic digital ads, and engaging social media posts to increase online traffic to the urgent need and continuing need program sites, making a difference for the hundreds of Minnesotans who have since signed up. The campaign was a success across platforms, with a reach of more than 1.3 million on social media and more than 56,000 page views between July 2021 and January 2022. In the first week and a half after launching on January 24, the video had more than 1,500 views.
Everyone deserves access to the essential life-sustaining medication their body needs, and the Minnesota Insulin Safety Net Program is a positive step forward. Sometimes sharing real, personal stories — as heavy and heartbreaking as they are — is the most effective tool to invite listening, raise awareness, and ultimately affect change.