Legislative Update

MAO Legislative Update
March 10, 2018
Eric Dick, MAO Lobbyist 

Two Weeks in, Two Weeks to Deadline
The 2018 Legislative Legislature just completed its second week of session with very few bills being passed.  Many big issues are being discussed—federal tax conformity, elder abuse, the opioid epidemic, gun violence—but action on any bills related to these topics has been slow.

The challenge for groups that want to get bills passed is that the first committee deadline is just two weeks away.  By March 22 all bills must have passed out of all policy committees in one of the two bodies to be considered alive.  This is setting up for a very busy next two weeks.

Opioid Awareness Day at the Capitol
Thursday March 1st was Opioid Awareness Day at the Capitol.  This event, sponsored by the Steve Rummler Hope Network, and many health groups working to reduce the number of opioid overdoses in Minnesota, was designed to encourage legislators to pass the Opioid Stewardship bill (SF 730/HF 1440).  The stewardship bill would fund programs to make the Prescription Monitoring Program easier to use by embedding it in the electronic health record, to provide more education to prescribers and the public on appropriate opioid use, and to create pilot projects designed to reduce opioid abuse.  These programs would be funded by an assessment on opioid manufacturers.

Both the House and Senate held hearings on addressing the opioid crisis on this day.  The House Health & Human Services Reform Committee heard from former DEA official and whistleblower Joe Rannazzisi on how drug companies have been a major contributor to creating the crisis.  They also heard testimony on two bills—the Stewardship bill and a bill to limit the suggested dose of opioids to a seven-day supply for the treatment of acute pain (HF 3019—Rep. Franke, (R – St. Paul Park).  Both bills were laid over without a vote.

In a related event the night before Opioid Awareness Day, Mr.  Rannazzisi led a discussion at the Landmark Center in St. Paul, where over 120 people, including several legislators, came to hear his story.  The event also included a legislative panel with Sen. Julie Rosen (R-Vernon Center), Sen. Chris Eaton (DFL-Brooklyn Center), and Rep. Dave Baker (R-Willmar).   These three legislators are the authors of the Opioid Stewardship bill and Sen. Eaton and Rep. Baker both lost children to opioid overdoses.

Legislators from both sides of the aisle are working to pass legislation that will help fight the opioid epidemic.  The challenge is how to fund the much-needed programs.  The assessment on opioid manufacturers is projected to raise $20 million each year but is opposed by legislative Republican leaders because they view it as a new tax.

Minnesota Health Records Act Reform Bill Gets First Hearing
On March 8 the House Health and Human Services Reform Committee heard and passed legislation to modernize the Minnesota Health Records Act and bring state law into alignment with the federal HIPAA standard.  The legislation, authored by Rep. Nick Zerwas, was referred to the House Civil Law Committee. 

Under HF 331, the state’s laws governing patient privacy protections would more closely align with federal law.  Minnesota is one of only two states that has a standard different than HIPAA.  A broad coalition of advocates for the bill, including the MMA, the Minnesota Hospital Association, the Council of Health plans, numerous patient advocacy groups, the Chamber of Commerce, many hospital and clinic systems and others have lobbied in support of the bill, arguing that it will make care coordination easier, reduce redundant testing and imaging, and allow for innovation in payment models. 

The Senate bill is authored by Senator Paul Utke (R - Park Rapids) and is expected to be heard soon. 

T21 Bill Introduced in the House
Tobacco control advocates scored a victory last week with the introduction in the House of a bill to increase the minimum age to purchase tobacco from 18 to 21. 

Advocates were cheered by the introduction by a Republican legislator, Rep. Dario Anselmo (R – Edina).  Rep. Anselmo is joined on the bill by four other GOP members and four DFL legislators.  A Senate version of the bill was introduced last year by Sen. Carla Nelson (R – Rochester). 

While passage of the bill is unlikely this session, the growing bipartisan support for the proposal – coupled with the increasing number of cities adopting the age increase – bodes well for the proposal’s viability in coming legislative sessions. 

Dayton Holds Press Conference Promoting MinnesotaCare Buy-In
Gov. Mark Dayton held a press conference on March 1 with Commissioner of Health Jan Malcolm and leading DFL legislators calling for the passage of legislation to allow any Minnesotans buy coverage through MinnesotaCare, regardless of their income.  He argued that this buy-in option is needed to ensure that all Minnesotans have access to an affordable health coverage option. 

Currently MinnesotaCare provides subsidized coverage to Minnesotans earning between 138 percent and 200 percent of the federal poverty level.  Under Dayton’s plan all Minnesotans would be able to purchase MinnesotaCare, without any state premium subsidies.  This would provide a more affordable coverage option, partially because reimbursement rates to physicians and other practitioners would be at Medicare rates, as opposed to commercial insurer rates.

This proposal is strongly opposed by Republican legislative leaders.  They argue that it will result in more Minnesotans purchasing public coverage causing further destabilization of the individual commercial market and put more pressure on hospitals and clinics because of the lower reimbursements. 

Rare Disease Council Created 
A proposal to establish the Advisory Council on Rare Diseases cleared its first committee stop on March 1 by passing the House Health and Human Services Reform Committee.  Under HF 2574, the University of Minnesota’s Board of Regents would be requested to establish a working group of experts and patients with rare diseases.  The advisory council would include a number of physicians with experience researching, diagnosing, or treating rare diseases, as well as other health care providers, researchers, patients, patient advocacy groups, and others.  The advisory council would be tasked with providing advice to the Legislature on research, diagnosis, treatment, and education related to rare diseases. 

The House bill, authored by Rep. Matt Dean (R – Dellwood), has been referred to the State Government Operations Committee.  The Senate bill, carried by Sen. Jeff Hayden (DFL – Minneapolis), is expected to be considered soon.

MDH Seeks Laboratory Improvements
The Minnesota Department of Health is seeking support for upgrades to the department’s main laboratory through the Capital Improvement Bonding Bill. The long-planned upgrades would enhance the state’s surveillance of infectious diseases, conduct newborn screening testing, reference testing, and other critical work. 

Bonding is a funding mechanism that the state uses to build capital-intensive, higher dollar projects such as convention centers, museums, state, or university buildings.  Through this process, the state issues bonds to fund higher cost investments.


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