Benson: The latest news on DHS turmoil and prescription drugs

Note: this column was published in local papers the week of January 16

The latest news on DHS turmoil and prescription drugs

By: Sen. Michelle Benson

When the legislature reconvenes in about one month, health and human services will once again be at the forefront. Two of the issues that will be on our agenda are the dysfunction at the Department of Human Services and the rising cost of prescription drugs.

90-day review of DHS: On December 10, I convened a meeting of the Health and Human Services Committee for the purpose of reviewing new DHS Commissioner Jodi Harpstead’s first 90 days on the job.

Commissioner Harpstead has a difficult task in front of her, but her appearance did little to reassure me that she grasps the severity of the problems at her agency. Instead, she said that DHS is “not in free fall, in crisis, in total chaos.”

Evidence does not support that tone, nor am I convinced that changes are imminent. There have been more than a dozen reports of mismanagement and corruption since session ended. Most recently, we learned an assistant commissioner approved $1 million in payments to a nonprofit while serving on that nonprofit’s board. These payments doubled the group’s revenue.

The nonpartisan think tank Center of the American Experiment is tracking government abuses and mismanagement, so you can keep tabs on state government easier. You can view it their scandal tracker at bit.ly/MNScandalTracker.

We did get some good news on the DHS front. Gov. Walz announced he is hiring an independent consultant to look at breaking up DHS. It’s good to see the governor finally engaging this issue, and it is encouraging that it appears he is taking a small step toward reforms that Republicans have proposed for a while now. But we have to remember this is only a start, and conducting a review is not a substitute for action on the Governor’s part.

It is my sincere hope that Gov. Walz won’t try to reshape the agency alone. The only way this overhaul will be successful is if Republicans and Democrats, the Senate and House have a seat at the table. The “go it alone” approach brought us the failure of MNsure. Let’s not make that mistake again. Together we can figure out an approach that will benefit the entire state.

Insulin Working Group update: On December 18, the Insulin Working Group held a meeting to update the public on the status of potential insulin legislation for 2020. We haven’t reached a compromise yet, but we certainly have areas of agreement. I am confident the outstanding issues, like who will pay for the program, will be worked out before session starts in February.

In the hearing, executives from MNsure reassured us that every individual market health plan will offer $25-or-less insulin. If you require insulin, you should contact your carrier to ask if this can help you.

Insulin is not the only prescription drug that is causing concern for Minnesotans. Last year, Senate Republicans passed a bill directing the Board of Pharmacy to provide information that will help Minnesotans save money on their prescription drugs. You can find that resource here: https://mn.gov/boards/pharmacy/public/savingonprescriptiondrugs.jsp. 

In addition, next session I will introduce a plan for Minnesota to bring cheaper prescription drug prices, including insulin, to your local pharmacies. Minnesotans should have abroad range of prescription drug choices, but also be treated fairly.

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