Minnesota Senate approves package of GOP health care bills

The Minnesota Senate gave bipartisan approval Thursday to a package of Republican-authored bills aimed at making health care more affordable, accessible and transparent.

Posted: Apr 4, 2019 8:27 PM

ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) — The Minnesota Senate gave bipartisan approval Thursday to a package of Republican-authored bills aimed at making health care more affordable, accessible and transparent.

The bills included one for greater oversight over and licensing for pharmacy benefit managers — companies that serve as middlemen between insurers and patients that are supposed to use their purchasing clout to hold down drug expenses. The chief sponsor, Sen. Scott Jensen, said at a news conference that the system isn't working.

But the Chaska physician said not all the rebates the manufacturers pay to the middlemen make it to patients in the form of savings, and the bill would open that up to scrutiny. He said the revenues and profits for the three biggest pharmacy benefit managers — Express Scripts, CVS Caremark and Minnesota-based Optum — are growing while the costs of prescription drugs keep rising.

In an interview, Jensen said Republicans might have held back from more regulation in the past, but a "sea change" is underway and they recognize the need.

"We're going to try to be thoughtful and cautious but we have to do it," he said.

Other bills that passed the Senate by wide margins Thursday included one to let patients enter into direct "primary care service agreements" with doctors to bolster not replace their insurance. Another would provide for more transparency in hospital billing. And one more would make it faster for allergy patients who need epi pens to get them in emergencies from pharmacies, while other allergy patients who carry epi pens could step in and share them in life-threatening situations.

"These are a number of serious bills," Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka, of Nisswa, said as he called for the House to support them. "These are real reforms. This isn't about nipping at the edges. These are things that actually move the ball forward."

Thursday's bills were part of a series of health care legislation emerging from the Senate's GOP majority. Companions to some of the less-contentious measures are advancing through the Democratic-controlled House, some as part of a much larger health and human services bill. But others are more contentious, such as a GOP-backed plan to renew the state's reinsurance program, which Democrats want to replace.

During the debate on the primary care service agreements bill, the GOP majority rejected a Democratic amendment to establish Gov. Tim Walz's proposed OneCare health insurance program, which would let consumers buy into a public program similar to the state's MinnesotaCare program for the working poor.

That move drew criticism from Assistant Democratic Leader Jeff Hayden, of Minneapolis, who said Senate Republicans are blocking real progress on health care while congratulating themselves for bills he said would make only small changes to the existing system.

"Minnesotans shouldn't have to worry about getting the health care they deserve," he said in a statement. "They're counting on us as their government to step in and help with more than an empty promise."

Minnesota Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Confirmed Cases: 38569

Reported Deaths: 1511
CountyConfirmedDeaths
Hennepin12456787
Ramsey4911228
Dakota238291
Stearns237119
Anoka2241109
Nobles16696
Olmsted112915
Washington111440
Mower9522
Rice8447
Scott7344
Clay58738
Kandiyohi5731
Blue Earth4792
Wright4755
Todd4012
Carver3811
Sherburne3175
Lyon3162
Freeborn2920
Watonwan2340
Steele2311
Benton2173
St. Louis18015
Martin1695
Nicollet16912
Cottonwood1360
Goodhue1318
Winona12515
Crow Wing10612
Pine1050
Le Sueur1031
Chisago1001
Otter Tail951
McLeod920
Carlton870
Dodge870
Polk822
Chippewa791
Unassigned7837
Isanti730
Waseca680
Douglas650
Itasca6412
Murray640
Meeker611
Morrison591
Becker560
Faribault560
Jackson550
Sibley542
Pipestone522
Pennington510
Renville352
Mille Lacs342
Wabasha330
Brown312
Rock310
Beltrami300
Fillmore300
Yellow Medicine300
Houston260
Swift221
Wilkin213
Norman200
Redwood180
Cass162
Roseau160
Aitkin150
Big Stone150
Koochiching151
Wadena150
Kanabec141
Grant120
Marshall120
Lincoln100
Pope100
Mahnomen91
Clearwater80
Hubbard70
Lake60
Traverse60
Lac qui Parle40
Stevens40
Red Lake30
Kittson20
Cook10
Lake of the Woods00

Iowa Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Confirmed Cases: 31670

Reported Deaths: 722
CountyConfirmedDeaths
Polk6638179
Woodbury325244
Black Hawk230158
Buena Vista171411
Johnson13148
Linn129482
Dallas128029
Marshall104919
Scott81510
Story7793
Pottawattamie73612
Wapello70830
Dubuque70222
Crawford6772
Muscatine64344
Sioux4770
Tama46529
Wright3861
Louisa36213
Jasper32517
Plymouth3225
Warren2901
Dickinson2663
Washington2439
Webster2292
Hamilton1891
Cerro Gordo1821
Boone1481
Clay1340
Clarke1322
Allamakee1314
Mahaska11617
Shelby1140
Clinton1121
Poweshiek1068
Carroll991
Pocahontas971
Bremer946
Des Moines922
Franklin900
Emmet880
Henry863
Cedar841
Taylor790
Hardin770
Monona770
Cherokee751
Floyd732
Marion700
Benton691
Guthrie664
Jefferson640
Sac640
Osceola620
Jones610
Butler572
Buchanan551
Humboldt551
Hancock540
Harrison540
Lee542
Calhoun532
Iowa530
Delaware511
Fayette510
Monroe516
Madison482
Clayton443
Lyon440
Davis411
Palo Alto410
Mitchell390
Winneshiek390
Grundy380
Mills370
Kossuth350
Howard340
Jackson320
Lucas314
Greene300
Chickasaw290
Union290
Winnebago290
Ida240
Cass230
Van Buren220
Appanoose213
Keokuk211
Page210
Worth200
Unassigned170
Adair160
Audubon161
Ringgold160
Decatur120
Montgomery102
Wayne100
Adams80
Fremont70
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