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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: 99134

Reported Deaths: 2089
CountyConfirmedDeaths
Hennepin27728936
Ramsey11209325
Dakota7724127
Anoka6343138
Stearns411925
Washington395055
Scott266333
Olmsted254428
Nobles197916
St. Louis174742
Blue Earth17437
Wright17137
Clay145741
Carver14517
Rice13518
Mower13486
Sherburne118514
Kandiyohi10573
Winona92318
Lyon7384
Waseca7228
Benton5683
Crow Wing56318
Steele5602
Nicollet55317
Freeborn5484
Watonwan5354
Chisago5221
Todd5142
McLeod5032
Le Sueur4804
Beltrami4735
Otter Tail4734
Martin46211
Goodhue3929
Douglas3622
Pine3610
Itasca35616
Polk3344
Isanti3241
Becker2862
Carlton2861
Morrison2802
Dodge2680
Pipestone23910
Chippewa2331
Cottonwood2290
Meeker2142
Wabasha2080
Sibley2033
Yellow Medicine2003
Brown1992
Cass1884
Rock1841
Redwood1805
Murray1762
Mille Lacs1723
Renville1638
Jackson1541
Unassigned15453
Faribault1490
Swift1451
Houston1350
Fillmore1340
Kanabec1318
Hubbard1261
Roseau1250
Koochiching1234
Pennington1201
Lincoln1180
Stevens1071
Pope1000
Aitkin881
Big Stone830
Wadena730
Lac qui Parle721
Wilkin713
Grant644
Lake610
Norman580
Marshall531
Mahnomen491
Red Lake451
Traverse360
Clearwater320
Lake of the Woods241
Kittson120
Cook70

Iowa Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Confirmed Cases: 88834

Reported Deaths: 1349
CountyConfirmedDeaths
Polk16204264
Woodbury568268
Johnson520327
Black Hawk455992
Linn4199115
Story350717
Dubuque347443
Scott312829
Dallas286038
Pottawattamie222539
Buena Vista202612
Marshall180235
Sioux17533
Wapello134557
Webster132714
Plymouth119121
Clinton115222
Muscatine113856
Crawford11176
Cerro Gordo107622
Warren9726
Jasper88334
Des Moines8249
Marion7799
Henry7774
Tama75732
Carroll7115
Lee6667
Wright6031
Dickinson5546
Boone5328
Bremer5137
Washington49311
Delaware4663
Louisa43915
Mahaska43520
Lyon3904
Jackson3683
Floyd3575
Franklin35318
Clay3504
Winneshiek3468
Benton3441
Hamilton3373
Poweshiek3278
Winnebago32514
Hardin3111
Buchanan2991
Jones2953
Kossuth2900
Butler2802
Emmet27910
Shelby2781
Sac2750
Chickasaw2741
Clayton2713
Guthrie27110
Clarke2703
Harrison2705
Cherokee2692
Allamakee2656
Cedar2561
Madison2452
Fayette2402
Grundy2294
Iowa2291
Palo Alto2140
Page2080
Hancock2032
Mills2031
Humboldt1963
Calhoun1953
Mitchell1950
Howard1937
Cass1812
Osceola1810
Pocahontas1682
Monona1671
Monroe16311
Lucas1596
Union1463
Appanoose1443
Taylor1431
Jefferson1411
Ida1352
Davis1304
Fremont1250
Van Buren1221
Keokuk1201
Worth1100
Greene1090
Montgomery1005
Audubon911
Wayne893
Adair761
Decatur670
Ringgold532
Adams380
Unassigned40
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