With so much happening related to the COVID-19 pandemic, it is easy to forget that the Minnesota Legislature is still, officially, in session. Legislators returned on March 26, 2020, for a one-day session to process a pandemic relief bill and then recessed until April 14, 2020. Work continues on issues for which there is complete agreement between the House and Senate, including more COVID-19 relief measures and prior authorization reform.
Our legislative rep Dave Renner, CAE, shares more about additional COVID-19 relief, changes to the state’s safety net programs and continuing work on prior authorization.
Legislature Passes Additional COVID-19 Relief
The March 26, 2020, session focused solely on passing an additional package of COVID-19 relief measures, providing $320 million in funding and relief to many economic sectors, including transportation, small business, child care and veterans affairs. The legislation, HF 4531, passed both bodies by near-unanimous margins.
The bill included the following appropriations:
- $9 million to food shelves and other food stability programming.
- $26 million to homeless shelters and support for individuals experiencing homelessness.
- $200 million for a newly established state fund intended to support state agencies’ efforts to protect Minnesotans and maintain state government operations.
The legislation also includes a provision that repeals a statute that limited initial and refill prescriptions of opioids. The repealed provision passed during the 2019 session as part of a broad package of reforms related to opioid prescribing and abuse. Specifically, the relief package repeals a measure in current law that precludes initial prescriptions for Schedule II through IV opiates or narcotics if the prescription had been issued more than 30 days prior. Similarly, the bill also repeals a provision in current law that prohibits refills for Schedule III and IV narcotics or opioids if more than 30 days had lapsed since the previous date on which the prescription was initially filled or refilled.
Previously, the Legislature passed $200 million in support for healthcare clinics, hospitals and long-term care facilities to treat COVID-19.
CMS Grants Flexibility to Manage Safety Net Programs
The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) approved a waiver to provide the Minnesota Department of Human Services (DHS) additional flexibility to manage the state’s safety net programs, MinnesotaCare and Medical Assistance.
In its response to the state request, CMS gave the state flexibility to:
- Reimburse healthcare services provided at alternative sites such as shelters or mobile clinics.
- Reimburse out-of-state providers who are not presently enrolled in Minnesota public insurance programs. And, allow Minnesota to “temporarily enroll the out-of-state provider for the duration of the public health emergency in order to accommodate participants who were displaced by the emergency.”
- Suspend prior authorization requirements for providers who are providing care for fee-for-service enrollees.
- Grant Minnesota authority to temporarily delay eligibility hearings for individuals seeking coverage under Medical Assistance and MinnesotaCare.
Prior Authorization Reform Discussions Continue
Discussions regarding prior authorization reform continue. Senator Julie Rosen (R-Vernon Center) and Representative Kelly Morrison, MD (DFL-Deephaven), are both interested in getting a bill passed this session. They recently hosted a Zoom meeting with proponents and opponents. They believe that if they can reach agreement between the House and Senate that the bill can get presented on both floors soon.
While not directly related to COVID-19, Senator Rosen and Representative Morrison believe we need to do what we can to reduce administrative costs and allow physicians, nurses and other healthcare providers to focus on providing direct patient care.
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