ST. PAUL — The four members of the so-called "doctors caucus" on Tuesday, Feb. 18, prescribed their plan for bringing down prescription drug prices and improving health care access.
Sens. Scott Jensen, R-Chaska, and Matt Klein, D-Mendota Heights, along with Reps. Kelly Morrison, D-Deephaven, and Alice Mann, D-Lakeville, proposed creating a state commission to assess changes in drug pricing, provide tax credits to people with high health insurance premiums and provide for four mental health visits under Minnesota health insurance plans.
The quartet, who are also physicians, said the impact for patients would be lower prescription drug prices at the pharmacy and more affordable and inclusive health insurance plans for those struggling to make ends meet. But they acknowledged that they'll face a tough path through the Legislature since leaders in the GOP-led Senate have said they don't plan to hold hearings on two of the proposals.
“When the decision is made to not hear these bills, physicians are not a quiet bunch, we don’t go quietly into the night," Jensen said, noting the group hoped to force public conversation on the bills by calling a Tuesday news conference. “This is not a shot (at Senate leadership), this is an olive branch to extend the opportunity for enhanced bipartisan approach to this important issue."
The group's ideas came from a state Senate committee focused on deriving solutions to the affordability issue. And the four lawmakers said the plans should at least be taken up in committee this year to help ease the financial burden on Minnesotans.
"The out of control price of prescription drugs has reached a point that action is required," Morrison said. "The state has the legal authority, and frankly, the responsibility to take action to address this problem."
They also noted that two of the members, Jensen and Mann, plan to retire next year, halving the doctors caucus. Jensen said if the quartet was unable to push the legislation through in 2020, it would be up to the remaining members "not to drop the ball" in 2021.
AARP Minnesota issued its endorsement of the proposals and said they were key to making health care more affordable for Minnesotans.
"Recognizing that prescription drugs are a public good and they're universally needed is no different than how we think about public utilities," Will Phillips, the group's executive director, said. "Just as when the basic health and safety of our citizens is at risk, when electricity or natural gas becomes unaffordable, the same is true when people cannot afford the medications they need."
A separate plan advancing in the Minnesota Senate would require drug manufacturers to alert the Department of Commerce if they plan to increase the price of prescription drugs by a certain amount and provide and explanation for the increase. Those who failed to provide that information could be subject to civil penalties.