For many Minnesotans, 2020 has shown how important it is to have a strong social safety net and a responsive government that cares for us. Senate Republican budget targets have no additional spending for HHS from previous budget estimates, given that these don’t include inflation this will ultimately result in cuts to service.
So far, few HHS bills have moved to the floor or out of the Senate; instead, these will likely be considered for the omnibus bills that committees will put together in the coming weeks. While Senate Republicans want to cut their way out of this crisis, DFLers are committed to protecting the vital health and human service programs Minnesotans rely on, like affordable health insurance, disability services, child care support, and economic assistance.
COVID-19 vaccine bills pass the Legislature
The Legislature passed a bill early in session to allow qualified dentists to administer coronavirus vaccines for eligible patients over the age of 16. Dentists are already allowed to administer flu vaccines and now will become an important part of our COVID-19 vaccine ecosystem. (SF 475)
Another bill to increase the Medical Assistance reimbursement rate for COVID-19 vaccinations to the higher Medicare rate also passed this session. The federal government will cover the cost of this increase to encourage more providers to register as vaccinators and to account for the complicated and expensive handling these vaccines require. (HF 1438)
Bills to bring down health care costs await hearings
Tens of thousands of Minnesotans lost access to their employer-sponsored health care since the start of the pandemic while health insurers saw their profits grow. Many people with insurance still struggle to afford it due to expensive premiums, out of pocket costs, and COVID-19 related financial challenges.
Senate Republicans have heard almost no bills this session that would make affordable, high-quality health insurance more accessible to Minnesotans. While the House has debated proposals like the Minnesota Care Buy-In and options to reduce the cost of prescription drugs through an affordability commission or state purchasing program, none of the DFL bills on these issues have been heard.
Minnesota Telehealth Act
The Legislature loosened certain restrictions last year to make sure people could access the care they needed from their home during the pandemic. This session, lawmakers are undertaking a massive effort to update our state’s telehealth laws throughout the health and social services sectors. Senate Republicans have floated ideas that would disrupt payment parity or allow health insurers to create separate telehealth-only networks, which could lead to substandard care. With more work to do on this bill, DFLers are focused on making sure these new telehealth options are appropriate and affordable for patients and providers.
Family First Prevention Services Act
Huge reforms are coming to Minnesota’s child welfare system. A new federal law shifts the focus and funding for child welfare towards upstream efforts to reduce the risk of a child being removed from their home and entering the foster care system. Like many other health and social service areas, Minnesota has huge disparities in outcomes for families of color in the child welfare system, especially for Black and Indigenous families. The Family First Bill is intended to help give families the resources they need to reduce instances of out of home placement. This legislation is moving through the House and Senate to conform to new federal guidance that will expand the delivery of evidence-based mental health and substance abuse prevention and treatment services, in-home parent skill-based programs, and kinship navigator services. (SF 1063)
Office of Medical Cannabis Bill moves to the Senate floor
A bill to expand Minnesota’s Medical Cannabis Program is moving through the House and Senate. A key change to improve accessibility of the program would allow patients 21 and older to purchase and smoke the raw cannabis flower. Supporters of this bill note that this proposed change may reduce the cost of medical cannabis by close to 50%, drastically improving the affordability of this program that is otherwise not covered by insurance. These changes are long overdue. Thirty-six states have medical cannabis programs, but Minnesota is the only one that prohibits the use of raw cannabis. (SF 1179)
The 2021 session has put a renewed emphasis on our long-term care industry to make sure facilities have the support they need, and residents are safe and protected. At the same time, DFLers are focused on making sure there is a robust system of supports and services available for people to remain at home or in their communities. These arrangements have been vital during the pandemic and will only continue to grow as our state’s aging population increases. The Health and Human Services Committees have spent this session looking at options to make sure our long-term care facilities and other community service options are safe and affordable, and the workforce that cares for them is appropriately compensated.
Controversial health and human services related bills moving through the Republican-controlled Health and Human Services Committees:
- SF 1636 Requiring unnecessary and burdensome licensing requirements for facilities that provide abortion care
- SF 831 Importing prescription drugs in an attempt to reduce costs
- SF 954 Increasing health insurance costs for tobacco users
- SF 1589 Limit’s MDH’s ability to conduct contract tracing and disease reporting for any communicable disease
Bills not currently being heard in any committee and authored by DFLers:
- SF 1029 MinnesotaCare Buy In
- SF 2262 Establishing a prescription drug purchasing program to reduce costs
- SF 1643 Minnesota Health Plan
- SF 843 African American Family Preservation Act
- SF 731 Protect Reproductive Options Act
- SF 963 Patients Right to Know
- SF 1121 Prescription Drug Affordability Act
- SF 2281 Creating a program to support integrated care for high-risk pregnant women
- SF 2192 Homeless Youth Act grant
- SF 1871 Prohibiting conversion therapy