Daily Digest: Opioid bill, Klobuchar taxes, census countdown

Good morning. Time to get your Tuesday started with some political news.

1. Senate passes opioid legislation. The Minnesota Senate passed legislation Monday to address the state’s opioid crisis and hold drug companies responsible for the cost. Sen. Julie Rosen, R-Vernon Center, said opioid addiction is tearing families apart and overwhelming health care systems, law enforcement and social services. She described her bill as a response to a serious public health emergency. “We are doing what we possibly can in this state. And yes, it is aggressive. But honestly, every single day I wake up and say this is the right thing to do. We’re only asking for $20 million, $20 million on a very, very important issue.” Both the Senate bill which passed by a vote of 59-6 and a House bill which passed last month raise $20 million per year through new fees on drug companies to pay for treatment and prevention programs. But there are differences in the way those companies are charged, and the Senate version would end — or sunset — the payments if a major court settlement is reached. (MPR News)

2. Klobuchar releases her tax returns. Democratic presidential candidate Amy Klobuchar released 12 years of tax returns Monday, saying “transparency and accountability are fundamental to good governance.” The Minnesota senator was the latest 2020 contender to make her returns public. The tax returns date back to 2006, when she first became a candidate for federal office. The documents show Klobuchar and her husband, attorney and law school professor John Bessler, paid $62,787 in federal taxes on an adjusted gross income of $292,306 in 2017. Democrats have criticized President Donald Trump for refusing to disclose his tax returns. His financial dealings also have been the subject of investigations. (Associated Press)

3. Walz seeks money for census outreach. The 2020 census population count doesn’t get underway for another year, but some Minnesota lawmakers say the state needs to start work now to preserve needed federal funding and representation in Congress. Gov. Tim Walz held a rally at the Capitol on Monday, starting the countdown to Census day on April 1, 2020 to call on lawmakers to pump funding into the once-in-a decade population count in Minnesota. Walz is proposing $1.6 million in one-time funding for outreach through the state demographer’s office. DFL Lt. Gov. Peggy Flanagan noted the federal government uses the count to determine how much money should flow into Minnesota each year. Currently the state gets $15 billion in federal funding annually. “Let me put it into perspective: Even a single missed person in the census could mean a forfeited $28,000 in federal funding over the course of 10 years,” Flanagan told the crowd. “Those are real dollars that affect real communities across the state.” (MPR News)

4. Health plans had a good year. Operating income for Minnesota’s nonprofit health insurers more than doubled last year as health plans made more money than expected in the market where individuals buy coverage — and could be issuing $37 million in rebates, as a result. The financial data released Monday show the continued recovery of the individual market, which provides coverage for a small share of all Minnesotans but has had an outsized impact on insurance company finances since changes with the federal Affordable Care Act (ACA). The market generated red ink for Minnesota’s nonprofit health plans in 2014 through 2016, and consumers were hit with huge premium increases as a result. But the market in 2017 became profitable and generated so much operating income last year that two carriers expect to pay rebates to consumers as required by the ACA. (Star Tribune)

5. Meanwhile the state fund that pays for health programs is drying up.  Minnesota faces a shortfall of $900 million by 2023 in the fund that supports MinnesotaCare — a key insurance program for the working poor — in the wake of recent federal funding cuts and the approaching sunset of a state health care tax. Last Friday, the Trump administration announced changes to a funding formula that is expected to trim $24 million in federal subsidies to Minnesota over the next two years. If enacted, it would be the third cut that federal officials have made since 2017. Altogether, federal support for MinnesotaCare has fallen by more than $350 million for the years 2018 through 2021. In addition, Minnesota’s “provider tax,” a 2 percent tax on medical bills, is set to expire at the end of this year, leaving state officials little maneuvering room to fill the federal funding gap. Lawmakers are grappling with that question in the current legislative session, but no consensus solution has emerged. Gov. Walz and many DFLers in the Legislature favor renewing the provider tax. Senate Republicans announced their opposition early in the session. (Star Tribune)

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