This session, Minnesota legislators came together across party lines to pass critical health policies, investing in the health care needs of Minnesotans. The only state in the U.S. with a House and Senate controlled by different parties, Minnesota lawmakers are showing that efforts to make health care more affordable and accessible are not limited by political ideology.
May 30, 2019, Governor Walz signed into law plans to extend the state’s provider tax which was due to sunset at the end of 2019, compromising at a slightly lower rate of 1.8%. Revenue from this tax funds Minnesota’s basic health program for working adults, MinnesotaCare, Medicaid (or Medical Assistance, as it’s known in Minnesota) and other vital services that provide care for over 1.2 million Minnesotans. Lawmakers also voted to reauthorize the state’s reinsurance program with strengthened public reporting requirements through 2022, which will help to lower the cost of premiums in the individual market.
Other areas of health reform also saw bipartisan support this session, including measures to control drug prices, promote price transparency from providers and drug manufacturers, fund opioid prevention and treatment programs, provide access to school-linked mental health services, reduce prenatal health disparities, and ensure adequate coverage and reimbursement for telemedicine services.
By requiring licensing and oversight of pharmacy benefit managers (PBMs), the Minnesota legislature has given the Department of Commerce the power to limit PBM business practices that could harm consumers. PBMs will now be required to disclose potential conflicts of interest and negotiate deals that put the needs of individuals and families first. PBM regulation will encourage drug price transparency and could help lower patient costs.
Minnesota legislators included additional reporting requirements for health carriers around prescription drugs starting in 2021. Plans offering prescription benefits on the individual or small group market will be required to disclose information regarding the most prescribed and most costly drugs from the previous year, along with a projected impact of prescription drug costs on premium rates. This information will be publicly disclosed in conjunction with premium rate releases prior to open enrollment each year.
A final key piece of pharmaceutical policy was bipartisan legislation to impose registration and annual renewal fees on drug companies selling opioids in Minnesota, money which will be used to fund grants for prevention, treatment and rehabilitation efforts and to alleviate rising county-level costs resulting from the state’s opioid crisis. HF 400 also establishes the Opiate Epidemic Response Advisory Council to develop and implement statewide actions to address increasingly high rates of opioid addiction and overdose in Minnesota. The new law will also establish limitations on quantities of opiates prescribed, dispensed or refilled, and will require mandatory use of the state’s prescription monitoring program for all licensed prescribers.
Making mental health care more accessible to children and young adults and enforcing mental health parity laws were other areas of agreement among Minnesota legislators. The Omnibus HHS bill included grant funding to support school-linked mental health initiatives and programs geared toward the mental health needs of shelter-linked youth. Insurance plans will also be required to provide information to Minnesota’s Department of Human Services on how they are meeting mental health parity standards that have already been established by federal law. Starting in 2021, the Department of Commerce will compile a report on how carriers are fulfilling these parity requirements and what steps have been taken to enforce mental health parity in Minnesota.
The Minnesota legislature also took steps to address gaps in racial and ethnic disparities in prenatal and infant care. The initiative expands an existing grant program focused on addressing immunization and infant mortality to also include efforts to decrease disparities in access to and utilization of high-quality prenatal care.
Legislators incorporated measures to address specific needs of rural Minnesotans by enabling increased use of telemedicine to deliver care, ensuring telemedicine consultations are covered and reimbursed the same as in-person visits.
Looking toward the future, Minnesota policy makers established a Blue Ribbon Commission to advise and assist the legislature and Governor in transforming the health and human services system to build greater efficiencies, savings, and better outcomes for Minnesotans.
Minnesota serves as an example that improving access to quality, affordable health care is a broadly supported. Minnesota’s divided government laid an important foundation maintaining and expanding access to health care upon which to build in future legislative sessions.