The commerce omnibus budget bill came out of committee with little investment in the department.
The Senate Republican bill had a $0 target and included additional funding only for health care enforcement within the Department of Commerce. The Department of Commerce was the only department not to receive an operating cost increase in the last budget cycle. The bill was rolled into the jobs, commerce, and energy omnibus bill which stalled in conference committee and had to be finished in the special session.
The bill that came out of the special session was a vast improvement and included additional funding for the department, investments in the state’s unclaimed property system, and grant funding for Prepare and Prosper.
The Department of Commerce plays an important role in regulating insurance companies and financial institutions, and the special session bill allows the department to continue that work. (HF 2)
Minnesota passed a program in 2017 to lower the cost of health care premiums for plans offered on the individual health insurance market. The bill allocated $542 million to insurance companies to help mitigate the risk of high-cost claims; it was a two-year program set to expire this year.
The program was part of many factors that did lower the average cost of premiums on the individual market in 2018 and 2019, yet Minnesota is still seeing skyrocketing health care costs; the reinsurance program was continued for another two years to address those costs.
It was the only bill passed that directly addressed the costs of health insurance – other proposals by Senate Republicans stalled in the process.
Bill to protect firefighters passes
Minnesota banned four chemicals used in flame retardants in 2017 after reports from firefighters that the chemicals were increasing the rate of cancer in firefighters.
A bill passed this session expanded on that prohibition, banning all organ halogenated flame retardant chemicals as well as firefighting foam that contains PFAs, unless the organization using the foam has the ability to contain, treat, and dispose of the foam without an environmental impact.
The bill aims to further reduce the rate of cancer amongst firefighters. (HF 359)
PROVISIONS THAT DID NOT PASS
Right to Shop Act
The Senate Republicans’ proposal for a health care fix was heard in the Commerce Committee this year. SF 3, known as the Right-to-Shop Act, would require the Department of Health to develop a web-based system for consumers to use to compare average costs of health care services by procedure.
Consumers would use that information to “shop around” for health care services. If the consumer opts to have their procedure done at a lower price point than the allowed amount paid, 50% of the money the insurance company saves is deposited into an account for the consumer that had the procedure done. That consumer may then use the money to pay for co-payments, coinsurance, or deductibles.
Proponents of the bill argue that it creates a win-win scenario for patients and insurance companies, as both save money and the consumer can then use that saved money to pay for other health care costs, essentially stretching their health care dollars. However, the bill puts much of the onus on consumers to find savings for the insurance company and focuses on the cost of care instead of quality, which may be detrimental to consumers. It became clear very quickly that the author of the bill had not involved health care stakeholders in the conversation and that the bill needed a lot of work and further discussion before it could be moved forward.
Despite the bill being a Senate Republican priority, it was tabled in committee and missed deadlines. The bill went no further in the legislative process this year. (SF 3)
The Senate Commerce Committee once again put together its annual omnibus liquor bill. The bill traditionally contains noncontroversial changes to the state’s liquor laws as well as liquor licenses for local establishments that require state approval.
This year’s bill was no different – it contained noncontroversial language that helps municipal liquor stores as well as provisions for liquor licenses at various local arenas and community centers.
The liquor bill passed off the Senate floor with no controversial provisions, despite a number of amendments being offered. Unfortunately, the House version of the bill got stuck in the process, and the liquor bill never made it into conference committee to be signed into law.
An attempt to amend the liquor bill to a department of commerce bill on the Senate floor also failed on a question of germaneness. (SF 2013)
Direct primary care
A bill that establishes a direct primary care system passed off the Senate floor this session but did not move forward in the House.
Direct primary care service arrangements are agreements between primary care providers, typically a doctor or specialist, and a patient that allow the patient to pay for services out-of-pocket without going through insurance. Doctors charge a monthly fee to provide routine medical care. Other more serious, time consuming, or equipment-heavy procedures are covered by an insurance policy – if the patient has one. Direct primary care arrangements already exist in Minnesota; the passed legislation adds guard rails to the system. A number of amendments adopted in the Commerce Committee before the bill was sent to the floor made the bill more consumer-friendly. The bill was never heard in the House. (SF 277)