March 17, 2017
It has been another busy, but fruitful, week at the Capitol. Just as quick as our first committee deadline passed, so did our second; this is the deadline by which most bills must have been acted on in the opposite body. The third, and final, committee deadline, — the date by which finance bills must be acted upon by a committee – is March 31.
Business at the Capitol will only continue to gain steam as we pass the halfway point of session. Committee work will give way to longer floor sessions and budget proposals will turn to budget negotiations with the House of Representatives and Governor Dayton. As chairwoman of the Senate E-12 Finance Committee, I continue working with my colleagues on our education budget proposal. I expect to release that proposal next week; much will depend on what spending target I am given.
Until then, read on for more of what has been happening at your Capitol. From education aid increases to biotechnology that benefits the critically ill, good legislation is advancing for the benefit of all Minnesotans.
Last week, I wrote about my bill, SF419, to exempt charitable gaming organizations from paying taxes on the donations they disperse; you are likely familiar with the raffles, bingo, or pulltabs set up at bars and restaurants by charitable organizations. The legislation would allow an estimated $16 million more to be donated back to our communities, in addition to the $80 million already donated each year.
Listen to this short radio ad by Allied Charities which highlights the significance of this legislation and the good it can do in our communities.
Reinsurance legislation passes Senate
On Wednesday, the Senate voted 37-29 to pass HF5, legislation that would establish a reinsurance program in Minnesota. This bill is intended to lower premiums for Minnesotans who purchase their health insurance on the individual market and have been faced with exorbitant premium increases. Under a reinsurance model, high claims would essentially be removed from the individual market with the costs split between the insurer and the state – the result being a more stable market and lower plan costs. Actuaries from the Department of Commerce predict rates will decrease between 18 and 23 percent compared to where they would be without a reinsurance model.
If we do not act soon, health insurance experts warn that the individual market may collapse. In addition, health plans begin to set their rates for the upcoming year in April, which adds to the urgency of this issue.
Click here to watch a YouTube clip of the comments I made on the Senate floor during the bill’s debate.
This week, I presented legislation before the Senate Health and Human Services Finance and Policy Committee that would allow Minnesotans to benefit from groundbreaking advances in our life science and biotechnology industries.
Countless Minnesotans with chronic or life-threatening diseases have been able to improve their quality of life and slow the progression of their disease with innovative new medicines known as biologics. Biologics are produced in living systems and are revolutionizing care by treating some of the highest-risk, critically-ill patients.
Biosimilars are the synthetic version of biologics; much like generics are to name brand drugs. Yet, our current pharmacy statues – in place since 1975 – need to be updated before Minnesotans can fully reap the benefits of this medical advancement. My legislation, SF1184, would allow pharmacists to safely substitute FDA-approved interchangeable biosimilar treatments with the same consumer protections that exist with generics. The American Cancer Society, the Arthritis Foundation, the Minnesota Ovarian Cancer Alliance, and many other organizations are advocating for these lifesaving innovations. The bill was passed by the committee and awaits a vote by the full Senate.
The Minnesota Constitution requires state funding for just two areas: education and transportation. In response, public schools in Minnesota receive basic per pupil funding called the general education formula. It is the preferable funding mechanism, as it funds all students equally and gives districts the most flexibility to best meet the needs of their students. The basic education formula for FY 2017 is set at $6,067 per pupil.
I authored SF1556, a bipartisan bill to increase the basic formula by 2% in each of the next two fiscal years; this would bring the basic education formula to $6,188 per pupil in 2018 and $6,312 per pupil in 2019. Governor Dayton proposed a 1% increase in the last biennial budget. We worked to increase that to a 2% increase and I am glad that the Governor’s budget this year includes a 2% increase.
Education is the great equalizer. It is critical that we provide schools with the resources they need to keep up with rising costs, so they can best prepare tomorrow’s workforce. The bill has great support from education advocacy groups. Check out the YouTube clip of the bill presentation here.
Co-op bill passed off Senate floor
Under Minnesota statutes, Rural Electric Cooperatives (REC’s) and Municipal Utilities are regulated much differently than Investor Owned Utilities. For decades, the Minnesota legislature has acknowledged the authority of democratically elected Rural Electric Cooperatives and Municipal Boards to set policies, procedures, and rates for their members. Members who produce solar energy have greater influence on their democratically-elected board members than they do on the unelected Public Utilities Commission. It is unnecessary to have the Public Utilities Commission duplicate the role of the Cooperative Boards.
In 2015, the legislature clarified that cooperatives and municipal utilities have the authority to recover costs of serving members who generate some or all of their own electricity by the use of a separate monthly fee. The cooperatives spent months working with stakeholders on the development of a formula that takes into account both the size of the solar installation and the specific economics of the individual utility.
Unfortunately, rather than working with the cooperatives, some opponents of the monthly fee attempted to bypass democratically elected cooperative board authority by initiating lengthy and expensive proceedings at the Public Utilities Commission. As a result, legislation (HF234/SF 141) was introduced this session to once again clarify the authority of the locally elected boards.
With strong, bipartisan support, the bill was passed off the Senate floor on Thursday. It requires independent review by the PUC of the fees you referenced. The legislation also requires independent third party mediation in the event of an unresolved dispute between a cooperative and it’s member-owner. With these changes, this legislation ensures fairness for members and their cooperatives.
Putting the patient first (Reform PA)
In many cases, consumers select a health plan based on medication coverage. Yet, there is nothing in law that prohibits an insurer from changing which drugs are covered midway through a contract year — and often during the course of treatment. Simply put, patients need uninterrupted access to the medications prescribed by their physicians.
That is why I wrote SF593, a consumer protection bill to prohibit health plans from discontinuing coverage of a medication during the length of the health insurance contract. Right now, patients and doctors must go through prior authorization (PA), where a Pharmacy Benefit Manager (PBM) for the insurance company must authorize the use of any drug removed from the list of formulary drugs that the patient is taking. Sometimes, the PA is allowed; sometimes, it is not. Sometimes, it is appealed successfully; sometimes, it is not. PA delays patients from getting their prescriptions and adds to the cost of health care, as health providers spend an estimated $80,000 per year, per physician, on the administrative work of PA.
In addition to reforming PA, my legislation would ensure health providers and patients are aware, upfront, of which medications would be covered under a given health plan. The bill is supported by the Minnesota Medical Association, the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), the American Heart Association, and many others. It received bipartisan support from the Senate Health and Human Services Finance and Policy Committee, where it was laid over for possible inclusion in its larger, forthcoming budget bill. Its House companion, House File 747, has not yet had a hearing.
Click here to watch the hearing and click here to watch the press conference. Click here to read a bombshell report issued on Monday about the role played by some Pharmacy Benefit Managers (PBMs) in adding to the cost of medications.
Track your tax refund!
The “Where’s My Refund” tool from the Minnesota Department of Revenue is a handy tool to track the status of your income tax return (and potential refund!) from it being received, processed, verified, and paid. It is your money – stay on top of it!
Take this week’s survey
Click here to answer this week’s survey question about prior authorization.
This week’s Capitol visitors
Senator Carla Nelson
95 University Ave W
3231 Minnesota Senate Building
Saint Paul, MN 55155-1206