Update 4:25 a.m. - The House began debate early Saturday morning before voting 77-51 to pass the bill. It now goes to the governor.
Good to see you, Health and Human Services omnibus bill. Have you lost some weight?
Well, yes, it has since it was passed by the House on April 25. Back then, it was 998 pages, but now it’s down to 650. Yet the reasons are less about paring out provisions than lopping off a pair of large measures that ended up in other bills, one licensing assisted living facilities, another regulating pharmacy benefit managers.
Fresh from a 48-hour crash diet as it was whipped into its final shape by legislative leaders and leadership of the HHS conference committee, the slimmed-down bill was unveiled to the House Health and Human Services Policy Committee late Friday afternoon. And it was given a glowing reception by committee members, as well as the state’s commissioners of health and human services.
“I don’t know if there was another bill where the House and Senate were further apart than on this bill,” said Tony Lourey, Commissioner of Human Services. “The core of the compromise was resizing the provider tax and being able to invest in some of the things that mean a lot to all of us.
“In the behavioral health sphere, one of the signature items has to be the certified community behavioral health clinics, which are really a transformative way to serve people. … And in this bill is the first across-the-board increase in the MFIP [Minnesota Family Investment Program] diversionary work program in over 33 years. We added $100 a month to every MFIP family in Minnesota, and that’s a really big deal.”
The Commissioner of Health, Jan Malcolm, added, “It was an incredibly challenging target, and I know that there’s a lot of disappointment at what we weren’t able to do. … But we appreciate the investments in prevention, particularly in the area of smoking -- which remains our number one cause of premature death – and more robust suicide prevention strategies. … I’m personally looking forward to the blue ribbon commission that was part of the bargain that our top leadership set for us to find a significant amount of savings.”
Malcolm was referring to a new provision in the bill that came from budget negotiations between Gov. Tim Walz, House Speaker Melissa Hortman (DFL-Brooklyn Park) and Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka (R-Nisswa). It would establish a commission responsible for finding $100 million of savings in health and human services during the 2022-23 biennium.
While Rep. Nick Zerwas (R-Elk River) said that the commission would find “fraud, waste and abuse” in the system, Lourey took issue with that, emphasizing that it would help bring more efficiency to the human services system. There are several provisions in the bill dealing with increased regulation of child care centers.
A look at the spreadsheet shows that, had the provider tax been allowed to sunset at year’s end, the HHS budget would likely be sinking in red ink. Instead, the tax has been renewed indefinitely at a reduced rate of 1.8 percent.
The bill also extends for two more years operation of the Minnesota premium security plan, which provides reinsurance payments to health insurers to help cover the cost of high claims in the individual market.
As for what was left out of the bill after negotiations, one was a program that would have provided insulin to uninsured people with diabetes, a policy provision that would have banned “conversion therapy” for LGBTQ people, and a proposal to raise the state’s legal age for smoking to 21.