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Legislative News and Views - Rep. Dave Pinto (DFL)

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Minnesota House advances Health and Human Services budget package

Monday, April 26, 2021

SAINT PAUL, Minn. – Today, the Minnesota House passed its Health and Human Services Budget aimed at building a better health system for Minnesotans after the COVID-19 pandemic. The budget strengthens our public health systems, addresses health inequities, makes prescription drugs more affordable, and expands coverage for low-income Minnesotans. The bill also includes needed investments in affordable child care for Minnesota families.

“This legislation builds a better health care system for Minnesotans, especially our public health care system which our entire state has relied upon throughout the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Rep. Tina Liebling (DFL – Rochester), Chair of the House Health Finance & Policy Committee. “This budget expands important health care coverage in numerous areas and will strengthen health and wellbeing for children and families. The bill also reaches underserved populations and has solutions to reduce health inequities. These important investments will help more Minnesotans have a healthy future and better quality of life.”

During COVID-19, many Minnesotans found telehealth valuable, and the budget expands and enhances these emerging services. As more Minnesotans worry about the future of affordable health care – even those who have coverage through their employer – the budget will launch a study of a MinnesotaCare public option. Furthermore, as Republicans continue to attack the Affordable Care Act in court leaving the future of its critical protection’s uncertain, the budget codifies important ACA provisions – like those protecting people with preexisting conditions – into state law. The bill also eliminates the “family glitch,” a problem occurring when an individual is ineligible for MinnesotaCare because they have access to employer coverage through a family member, even though the coverage is unaffordable.

Minnesota has significant health care inequities, and the budget includes a variety of measures to ensure our health care framework has a race equity lens. It expands local public health grants and expands public health outreach to underserved and communities of color. One of the most significant areas of inequity is maternal health, and the budget and has several solutions to improve dignity and care during pregnancy and childbirth, including an extension of post-partum benefits under Medical Assistance (MA) from 60 days to 12 months. The budget also increases funding for lead risk assessments, enhances coverage for asthma, and makes Minnesota’s vaccine distribution system more equitable. It also contains measures to improve dental care for low-income Minnesotans, including uniform administration of dental benefits under MA and MinnesotaCare, and the addition of adult periodontal coverage to MA services.

Minnesotans continue to struggle with the skyrocketing costs of prescription drugs, and the House DFL HHS budget contains a number of solutions to lower prices. The bill would ban prescription drug price gouging, allowing the Attorney General to obtain drug pricing information and take action against drug manufacturers who excessively increase prices. To address the impact of rising drug costs on the MA program, the budget establishes a direct prescription drug purchasing program to take advantage of the state’s purchasing power while increasing transparency. It also eliminates copays for HIV medications for those on MinnesotaCare or MA, drives down costs for biosimilars, and prevents health plans from making mid-year formulary changes.

“Our House DFL HHS budget will improve people’s lives in many different ways, making significant progress to improve the social determinants of health and addressing our vast racial and economic inequities,” said Rep. Jen Schultz (DFL – Duluth), Chair of the House Human Services Finance & Policy Committee. “We’re making key investments in children, families, people with disabilities, and those who need support for mental health or substance abuse treatment. This legislation recognizes the challenges Minnesotans have faced over the last year, and will improve overall people’s health and wellbeing.”

The budget delivers new support for people with disabilities, programs for older Minnesotans, food support, economic help for struggling families, and assistance for those experiencing mental illness and substance abuse. The budget invests $25 million to address homelessness, including funding for emergency shelters, services, and support grants. It contains a $68 million investment to increase the rates and wages of personal care attendants to ensure people with disabilities and vulnerable Minnesotans receive the care they need to live with dignity and reach their full potential. To help low-income Minnesotans who have struggled during the pandemic, the budget includes a cost of living increase along with a one-time payment of $750 for Minnesotans enrolled in the Minnesota Family Investment Program (MFIP) and increases the eligibility threshold for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). To ensure county and tribal governments can continue to deliver important services, the budget has funding to address inadvertent overpayments in 2019 for opioid addiction treatments.

Minnesota has experienced a dramatic workforce shortage for providers of behavioral health and mental health services, with a profound lack of cultural and ethnic diversity. The bill contains several strategies to address the shortage in the mental health workforce and the lack of diversity among providers. The budget creates a uniform mental health uniform services standard so providers can focus more on serving their clients rather than paperwork. It also creates a new path for children to receive mental health services without being placed in the child protection system, and new resources for homeless and runaway youth.

The budget contains funding to implement the federal Family First Prevention and Services Act (FFPSA) which changes the delivery of child welfare services to strengthen families, prevent maltreatment, and addresses other conditions that lead to out-of-home placement. To keep families together, the bill updates Minnesota’s foster care licensing standards to remove barriers that often separate families. The bill also requires child protection workers to complete training on sex trafficking and sexual exploitation of children and youth.

“The earliest months and years of a child’s life set the foundation for their future,” said Rep. Dave Pinto (DFL - St. Paul), Chair of the House Early Childhood Finance and Policy Committee. “We all benefit when the youngest Minnesotans receive affordable and high-quality care and learning during this critical period. The strong investments we advanced today are an investment in our future. They will help close Minnesota’s persistent opportunity gap and ensure that parents can work, employers can grow, and communities can thrive.”

While Minnesota’s early care and learning sector was in crisis even before the pandemic, COVID-19 has exacerbated inequalities that contribute to our persistent opportunity gap and the challenges faced by child care providers, workers, and families. The budget makes strong investments in this critical sector, using a combination of state and federal funds. It provides more than $200 million to raise reimbursement rates for the Child Care Assistance Program (CCAP), finally getting Minnesota closer to the federal standard and ensuring providers can continue serving children from low-income families. In recognition of the fundamental need for ongoing public support, the budget delivers more than $300 million in monthly payments for child care providers and frontline workers. The bill also includes grants to increase the supply of child care and funds for a wide variety of evaluation and reform efforts.

“All Minnesotans deserve affordable and accessible health care and child care,” said House Speaker Melissa Hortman. “The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted how much Minnesotans count on our health care system. As we look toward a post-pandemic future, House DFLers are working to address the challenges Minnesotans have faced over the last year and build a better health care system, reduce racial disparities, and improve the affordability of child care.”

“The reason insurers and pharmaceutical companies keep clawing more money away from workers and families to provide the same if not worse benefits is because the Republican Party values health insurance executives’ paychecks more than people’s lives,” said Majority Leader Ryan Winkler. “Our health care system was created by the rich and well-connected to benefit the rich and well-connected. As Senate Republicans insist on the status quo, House Democrats are passing legislation that gets Minnesota to a public option, lowers prescription drug costs, and provides more equitable access to care.”

The bill language can be accessed here and a spreadsheet of the investments made in the budget bill can be accessed here. Video of the floor session will be available on House Public Information Services’ YouTube channel.