This week in Health Finance and Policy committee, we heard testimony from University of Minnesota epidemiologist and world-renowned infectious disease expert, Dr. Michael Osterholm. He and other experts have great concern about the new variants of the virus, turning up in the United Kingdom, Portugal, Brazil, and South Africa, and are now seeing a new surge of cases followed by a devastating increase in hospitalizations and deaths.
Dr. Osterholm affirmed that it is just as important as ever to wear a mask when in public and to keep a physical distance from people outside your immediate household. He also spoke to the need to wear a good quality mask consisting of multiple layers and well fitted – and wearing it properly – and said there are too many pictures with noses showing above the mask.
I asked Dr. Osterholm how we can keep our spirits up and our mental health intact during these difficult days. You can watch our exchange here.
We also heard HF 8 in Health Policy and Finance Committee. The bill carves out pharmacy coverage from publicly funded managed care organizations. Included in the bill is the directive to make prescription drugs available at the lowest possible cost to program participants. The bill is based on a recommendation from the HHS Blue Ribbon Commission’s report that included a pharmacy benefit carve out as a cost-saving item. West Virginia has experienced significant savings implementing this strategy.
Top 30 Jobs
The Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development (DEED) has posted a list of the top 30 jobs in demand in the state. If you or someone you know is seeking employment, check here for the list and how you can be connected to future employers.
Several of my House colleagues have introduced a plan to responsibly legalize adult-use cannabis in Minnesota. The legislation creates a regulated cannabis market while addressing legitimate concerns around youth access, public health, and road safety.
Stay Warm this Winter
The temperature is dropping below zero this weekend, and I want to mention the Minnesota’s Energy Assistance Program, which helped nearly 118,000 Minnesota households pay their heating bills last year. Households with young children, people with disabilities, veterans, seniors and those experiencing unemployment or financial hardship as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic are especially encouraged to apply. Both renters and homeowners can qualify to get energy assistance. New applicants have until May 31, 2021 to apply, however funding is limited and administered on a first-come, first-served basis. Households can apply for assistance with the local service provider in their area. Call 800-657-3710, and press 1, or visit the Commerce Department’s Energy Assistance Program webpage.
Everyone can work to reduce the spread of COVID-19
- Wear masks when in public. 10-50% of virus carriers are asymptomatic (are not experiencing any symptoms). Wearing masks helps control the virus and has been shown to lessen COVID-19 spread.
- Avoid enclosed spaces with groups of people, where the virus can linger in the air for long periods of time.
- Get tested if you have cold or flu-like symptoms.
- Stay six feet away from others.
- Cover your coughs and sneezes with your elbow or sleeve, or a tissue and then throw the tissue in the trash and wash your hands afterwards.
- Washing your hands often with soap and water for 20 seconds, especially after going to the bathroom or before eating. If soap and water are not readily available, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer that contains at least 60% alcohol.
- Avoid touching your face – especially your eyes, nose and mouth – with unwashed hands.
- Up-to-date guidance is available from the Department of Health.
Stay connected with the Legislature
The Minnesota House will continue to operate remotely, as we did throughout most of 2020. The House will ensure openness and transparency for the public by expanding the number of simultaneous committees it can webcast live?from a maximum of two to five, so you can stay current on issues moving through committees this budget session.
Also, the Minnesota House of Representatives Public Information Services offers nonpartisan recaps of high-profile bills, committee hearings, and floor sessions with their Session Daily publication. Subscribe to receive these here. To track bills of interest through the legislative process, I encourage you to utilize the MyBills feature on the Minnesota House of Representatives’ website here.
Please continue to reach out with any input, ideas, or feedback about the issues important to you. I value hearing from you, so please don’t hesitate to call or email me any time. You can also connect with me on Facebook here. It’s an honor to represent you at the State Capitol.