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'Penny a pill' opioid crisis proposal likely done for the session

A delete-all amendment proved the undoing of the so-called “penny a pill proposal” Thursday night.

The initiative contained in a bill from Rep. Dave Baker (R-Willmar) would have charged prescription opioid manufacturers to help fund efforts to combat the opioid crisis. But Baker’s own amendment in the House Health and Human Services Reform Committee changed the bill so the source for anti-opioid money is the state’s General Fund instead of drug manufacturers’ wallets.

Rep. Dave Baker (R-Willmar), the bill's sponsor

HF1440 would also route all federal funds and grants received by the state to fight the opioid crisis to an Opioid Addiction Prevention and Treatment Account.

The bill, as amended, was approved by the committee and re-referred to the House Civil Law and Data Practices Policy Committee. The companion, SF730, is sponsored by Sen. Julie Rosen (R-Vernon Center) and awaits action by the Senate Health and Human Services Finance and Policy Committee.

HF1440 would transfer $16.5 million in one-time appropriations for Fiscal Year 2019 into the new opioid account. That money, in turn, would be given to EMS programs to administer overdose drugs and used for a 5 percent increase in Medical Assistance payment rates for substance abuse programs, among other things.

Baker said he decided to switch funding sources because he needed the money quickly, and the initial proposal would mean the money wouldn’t come in until up to two years after it was passed into law. Circumstances have changed due to the announcement there is a projected state budget surplus, he said.

Despite the temporary setback, Baker vowed to continue trying to hold drug companies accountable.

“I have to swallow a lot of pride on this one, and I have to make sure we get the work done,” he said. “I cannot leave this House this year without doing significant work. I will never give up. I’m going after the drug manufacturers. I will introduce this every year, I’ll do it a couple different times, I’ll find different ways. I’ll look at licensing, I’ll look at whatever we have to do.”

The bill would also appropriate an additional $3.5 million from the General Fund to the Board of Pharmacy so it could integrate its prescription monitoring program with statewide health records. 

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