Having physicians crafting health care legislation is unusual and closely watched.
Four physicians served in this session of the Minnesota Legislature, including two area legislators. Sen. Scott Jensen (R-Chaska) represents Senate District 47 and is a family doctor. Rep. Kelly Morrison (D-Deephaven) represents House District 33B and is an obstetrician.
The other physician legislators are Sen. Matt Kline, a Democrat representing Senate District 52, and House District 56B Democratic Rep. Alice Mann.
Southwest News Media talked with Jensen and Morrison to learn more about how their roles cross over, and about which health care bills need urgent care.
Responses have been edited for brevity.
What is a physician coming into health care legislation excellently poised to understand?
Jensen: I think a lot of times, a legislator might have a misimpression and think, well, the world looks this way, and I can say that in the world of health care: No, that’s not how it works, that’s not accurate. A big part of the reason I ran was because I do know health care.
Morrison: We spend our careers working with people from all different kinds of backgrounds and all different walks of life, and we’re used to meeting people where they are, and I think those are important skills when you’re thinking about making policy for a whole range of people that live in our state.
What was new
for you to learn about health care in
becoming a legislator?
Jensen: I thought there would be more of a hunger to learn. And to find out why this person on the other side of the aisle thinks the way they do. Being in the Legislature, I’ve been very impressed with Minnesotans. They’re a diverse group, but they’re very sensitive to the needs of others.
Morrison: A lot of the minutiae of the policy we don’t study in medical school, and a lot of that doesn’t come up on a daily basis with a patient interactions. So there’s a lot to learn there and I think it’s important that we have people with public health backgrounds and business backgrounds and medical backgrounds, too, forming that policy.
What about the bipartisanship behind some of the health care bills this year.
Jensen: I think Republicans generally avoid regulation, whenever they can. I think that Democrats have been more willing to say ‘We need to do something more ambitious.’ And I think I’m in the middle. I’m trying to encourage: Let’s look at thoughtful, well-timed well-constructed regulation of those sectors of the health care market that needs to take place, so that we can indeed continue to have the public/private partnership in the world of health care in Minnesota that we’ve enjoyed.
Morrison: The good news is that there’s a lot of bipartisan support for addressing some of the challenges we have in our health care system. There were several bills Dr. Jensen and I authored together, and I think that’s helpful to our colleagues to see that if me, as a Democrat thinks it’s important, and he, as a Republican thinks it’s important, I think that gets our colleagues’ attention.
What is going
to happen with MinnesotaCare, and what needs to happen?
Jensen: MinnesotaCare will continue to be a very significant pathway for a lot of Minnesotans, especially Minnesotans that make too much money to qualify for pay, but not enough money to readily afford health insurance. I think MinnesotaCare should definitely be a part of the program of health care.
Morrison: A lot of us, including me, campaigned to increase access to MinnesotaCare with a public buy-in option. Ultimately, it didn’t get through negotiations in the end, so MinnesotaCare is kind of status quo. I think that there will be continued work to push for some kind of a buy-in to MinnesotaCare.
How can health care be made more affordable to its customers
Jensen: We almost have to press restart on the conversation. I think that we should be working harder to ensure that people aren’t frightened of health care and the health care catastrophes. I would like to see us identify a basic package of critical care available to all, just by right of being a citizen. With that package, we need to price it differently as well. We need to tell hospitals and doctors and clinics that this basic package is going to have a regulated set of prices.
Morrison: I favor trying a MinnesotaCare buy-in option. One of the things we struggle with is these very high premiums, and very high deductibles that have probably started to scare some of us away from even buying insurance. We’ve always prided ourselves in Minnesota as having very low uninsured rates, and those have been creeping up for the last several years, and that’s not a good thing. We’ve got to make sure we’re taking care of each other.
At what point are medical issues not a partisan issue?
Jensen: Unfortunately, I think we’ve made health care political. And I would ask the question: Why would one political party versus another political party say it’s OK for someone not to have a basic package covered? We’ve got to find our sweet spot, and when we find it, it has to be sustainable. We cannot pay for a BMW plan for 325 million Americans, or for 5.6 million Minnesotans. We have got to say: What is it going to cost? What’s a reasonable price?
Morrison: I would hope they’re never partisan. I think of Alex Smith. He had been a Type 1 diabetic since he was a child, and insulin became increasingly unaffordable for him, so he was rationing his insulin over time and he died. That kind of thing shouldn’t be happening in Minnesota in the year 2019. But, we’re at a point where it does, and that feels like that shouldn’t be a partisan issue to me.
What specific legislation that passed moves the needle forward in creating a healthier Minnesota?
Jensen: The Pharmacy Benefit Manager Licensure and Regulations bill (S.F. 278). That bill is going to shine a bright light on how the supply chain in pharmaceuticals work. Pharmacy benefit managers do good work in many areas. But they need to operate openly and with transparency. They should not be gagging the pharmacists from getting good information.
Morrison: I think that the opioid bill was an important step toward addressing our opioid epidemic. The bill holds the pharmaceutical industry to pay for the fallout. There was progress made in eldercare, licensing and assisted living all in homes. The pharmacy benefit manager bill is a step toward addressing the high price of prescription medication, with a big piece of our health care challenge.
What are you hoping
to tackle next session?
Jensen: I want to create a Prescription Drug Affordability commission. I introduced the bill this year and I could not get a hearing from my colleagues. If there’s going to be a new product coming to market, those prices should be justified.
Morrison: One of my big efforts was a drug price transparency act that was bipartisan. It asked drug companies to just disclose why drug prices are so high. So, when a new drug starts at a certain price that’s very high or an acquired drug rises precipitously, that they have to explain why to the health commissioner. And if they don’t, there’s a fee that goes into the health care access fund.