New Protections to Prevent Elder Abuse Become Law
AARP and consumer advocates claimed victory after coming to consensus with the long-term care industry on a bill to prevent elder abuse. Several years ago, the Star Tribune series, "Left to Suffer," unveiled a broken regulatory system that left many older and vulnerable adults at risk for abuse and neglect. Reports of elder abuse, uncovered more than two years ago, continue with the Minnesota Department of Health receiving approximately 400 cases of abuse and neglect every week.
The agreement which establishes licensure of assisted living facilities and strengthens the rights of older and vulnerable adults was sponsored by Rep. Jennifer Schultz (D - Duluth) and Sen. Karin Housley (R - St. Mary's Point). The bill passed with overwhelming bipartisan support and was signed into law by Governor Tim Walz on Tuesday, May 21.
While AARP did not win everything we fought for, the final legislation provides both interim protections before licensure is implemented and strong assisted living (AL) licensure requirements, with dementia care standards. The bill sets in motion the process to bring Minnesota in line with every other state in licensing assisted living facilities. The licensing requirements establish high standards to ensure that residents, including those with dementia, receive the care they need and deserve. In addition, the bill provides the strong consumer protections including the right to place a camera to monitor care, protections against retaliation and arbitrary discharges, and appeal rights. The bill also creates a Maltreatment Restitution Fund to compensate older adults who have been harmed.
Big Pharma Wins this Session
In a very disappointing end to session, two bills AARP supported to rein in the high cost of prescription drugs were defeated by the Senate in late night behind closed-door negotiations.
Despite AARP’s grassroots efforts and ad campaign, big pharma convinced Senate lawmakers to reject the anti-gouging bill and the Rx transparency bill. These bills would have stopped price gouging and required drug manufacturers to come clean on the real cost of their prescription drugs.
AARP has a special shout-out for volunteer Claire Henn who spoke out publicly about her story to lawmakers and the media about the of the high cost of her arthritis medication which increased from $60 to over $1400 a month, making it unaffordable. Claire’s story even appeared in the Senate Republicans' press release who had earlier in session voted for the transparency bill but pressure from drug companies won the day.
Fortunately, not all was lost as several other bills passed that will address the high costs of RX including:
Prohibition of Gag Clauses:
Patients can be assured they are getting the right information from their pharmacists with a new law prohibiting gag clauses by PBM’s and insurers. The law also requires disclosure to enrollees of their costs, including whether it is less expensive for an enrollee to buy the medication retail rather than through the plan sponsor.
Rx Refills Coordinated:
Another new law allows for the coordination (synchronization) of Rx refills for patients with two or more medications in order to allow prescriptions to be filled at the same time.
Licensure of Pharmacy Benefit Managers (PBMs):
A new law authored by Sen. Scott Jensen and Rep. Alice Mann will require that PBM’s doing business in Minnesota are licensed and regulated by the Department of Health. Once designed as middle men to lower drug costs for employers, concerns rose over the level of profits PBM’s were making and the high cost patients paid through their networks. This law also requires transparency of the drug costs between the PBM and the wholesale drug manufacture or distributor and any rebates the PBM received upon request of the employer.
Social Security Relief in Final Tax Agreement
The final 2019 tax agreement provides a small amount of tax relief for Social Security recipients and builds off the work AARP MN did in 2017 to pass significant reductions.
The new law will increase the subtraction amounts for married couples from $4,500 to $5150 and single households from $3,500 to $4,020. The income levels which determine who is eligible for the full subtraction also have increased ever so slightly and will continue to be adjusted for inflation. The new levels are $78,180 and $61,080 respectively.
AARP urged lawmakers to take a balanced approach to ensure adequate funding for other programs seniors rely on as they age. This agreement strikes that balance.
Provider Tax Left Intact
Health care organizations, including AARP, fought hard to retain the 2% provider tax this session. The tax helps fund the over 1.1 million Minnesotans receiving public health coverage under MinnesotaCare and Medicaid. The tax was set to expire at the end of the year. Democrats wanted to continue the tax but Republicans argued it should be repealed. In the end, the tax was reduced to 1.8%.
No Health Care Buy-in Option or Premium Relief
In announcing a budget deal, Governor Walz conceded that his plan to create a public buy-in option in the state's individuals insurance marketplace was not part of the final agreement. Unfortunately, nor was the 20% premium subsidy designed to help people buying insurance on their own but not eligible for tax subsidies under MNSure.
AARP would like to give a special thanks to Diane Hanson of Rochester who spent numerous hours at the Capitol testifying on the need for affordable health coverage.
Paid Family Leave Doesn't Pass Senate
A bill to establish statewide funding to cover paid family and medical leave failed to make it in the final agreement after the Senate pushed back on the cost of the program and the new requirements for businesses. AARP will continue to work on this important program next year.