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$259 million omnibus health finance and policy bill gets committee approval

With a sizable budget surplus at hand, now is the right time to make expansive investments to improve health care for all Minnesotans, says the sponsor of the omnibus health finance and policy bill.

“As we work to emerge from the COVID-19 pandemic, the investments in this bill will improve the health of Minnesotans while reducing their costs,” said Rep. Tina Liebling (DFL-Rochester).

The House Health Finance and Policy Committee approved HF4706, as amended by a delete-all amendment, Friday and sent it to the House Ways and Means Committee on a 10-7 party-line vote.

Liebling, chair of the committee, said the bill focuses on ways to support the behavioral health workforce, mental health workers, and community health workers, including grants, scholarships, and technical assistance.

Access to health care would also be increased, Liebling said, especially for seniors, people with a disability, and people in historically medically underserved communities.

Rep. Joe Schomacker (R-Luverne) said he is concerned the bill would create too much bureaucracy, doesn’t do enough to help the state rein in health care costs, and that the proposed changes to MinnesotaCare could have unintended negative consequences.

 

Financial provisions

The bill would appropriate an additional $259.2 million in fiscal year 2023 to fund health care-related programs, and an additional $413.8 million in the 2024-25 biennium.

The financial details of both the health and the human services omnibus policy and finance bills were presented at an April 6 joint committee meeting.

[MORE: View the spreadsheet]

 

Policy provisions

Policy provisions in the omnibus health finance and policy bill include those that would:

  • improve access to Medical Assistance for people with disabilities by fixing the “spend-down” limit;
  • establish loan forgiveness programs for health care workers, including those serving in rural and underserved areas;
  • establish a MinnesotaCare public option effective Jan. 1, 2025;
  • permit all enrollees to opt out of managed health care plans;
  • expand the community health worker workforce;
  • fund eight regional drug overdose prevention teams;
  • establish a voluntary home visiting program for families expecting or caring for an infant;
  • lower patient enrollment fees for the medical cannabis program to $40;
  • establish the Emmett Louis Till Victims Recovery Program;
  • distribute no-cost COVID-19 tests, masks, and respirators to individuals;
  • establish a Health Care Affordability Board authorized to set health care spending growth targets;
  • expand adult dental coverage under Medical Assistance;
  • establish a dental home pilot project; and
  • establish a grant program for remediation of lead sources in drinking water in schools and child care settings.

[MORE: List of bills included in the omnibus bill]

 

Amendments adopted

Liebling successfully offered a “clean up” amendment that made technical and conforming changes, changed some effective dates, and inserted language inadvertently omitted when putting the bill together.

Rep. Kelly Morrison (DFL-Deephaven) successfully offered an amendment that would require hospitals and primary care providers to provide Medical Assistance and MinnesotaCare enrollees with comprehensive and scientifically accurate information on the full range of contraceptive options.

 

Failed amendments

Along party lines, the committee did not adopt three amendments offered by Rep. Glenn Gruenhagen (R-Glencoe).

One amendment would have deleted provisions regulating the distribution and sale of prescription drugs, and would establish a Prescription Drug Affordability Board to prohibit drug manufacturers from imposing excessive price increases.

Gruenhagen said those provisions would unwisely limit beneficial market forces already at work to keep drug prices as low as possible and would cause drug manufacturers to limit the number of drugs they distribute and sell in Minnesota.

Liebling said drug prices are so high because there is no free-market competition, and the government has a responsibility to step in when drug manufacturers can essentially charge whatever they want.

A second Gruenhagen amendment would have deleted sections establishing a MinnesotaCare public option and making undocumented children eligible for the program. A third would have deleted language permitting the Department of Health and the courts to change the sex of an individual on a birth certificate at the request of the birth certificate subject, or a parent or guardian of the subject.

Rep. Lisa Demuth (R-Cold Spring) unsuccessfully offered an amendment to eliminate a requirement for hospitals to establish hospital nurse staffing committees to develop and implement hospital core staffing plans. It, too, failed along party lines.


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